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War and Peace in

the Jewish Tradition

edited by
Lawrence Schiffman
and Joel B. Wolowelsky

Robert S. Hirt, Series Editor


New York

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The Orthodox Forum, initially convened by Dr. Norman Lamm,

Chancellor of Yeshiva University, meets each year to consider major
issues of concern to the Jewish community. Forum participants from
throughout the world, including academicians in both Jewish and
secular fields, rabbis, rashei yeshivah, Jewish educators, and Jewish
communal professionals, gather in conference as a think tank to
discuss and critique each other’s original papers, examining different
aspects of a central theme. The purpose of the Forum is to create
and disseminate a new and vibrant Torah literature addressing the
critical issues facing Jewry today.

The Orthodox Forum

gratefully acknowledges the support
of the Joseph J. and Bertha K. Green Memorial Fund
at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
established by Morris L. Green, of blessed memory.

The Orthodox Forum Series

is a project of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary,
an affiliate of Yeshiva University

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Published by
KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
930 Newark Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07306
Tel. (201) 963-9524
Fax. (201) 963-0102

Copyright © 2007 Yeshiva University Press

This book was typeset by Jerusalem Typesetting, www.jerusalemtype.com

* * *

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Orthodox Forum (16th : 2004 : New York, NY)

War and peace in the Jewish tradition / edited by Lawrence Schiffman, Joel B.
p. cm. – (Orthodox forum series)
ISBN 0-88125-945-4
1. War – Religious aspects – Judaism. 2. War (Jewish law) 3. Just war doctrine.
4. Peace – Religious aspects – Judaism. 5. Reconciliation – Religious aspects –
Judaism. I. Schiffman, Lawrence H. II. Wolowelsky, Joel B. III. Title.
BM538.P3O78 2004
296.3’6242 – dc22

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About the Editors and Contributors ix

Series Editor’s Preface xiii
Introduction xv
David Shatz
Just Wars, Just Battles and Just Conduct in Jewish Law:
Jewish Law Is Not a Suicide Pact!* 1
Michael J. Broyde
Philosophical Perspectives on Just War 45
Herb Leventer
From a Chessboard to the Matrix:
The Challenge of Applying the Laws of
Armed Conflict in the Asymmetric Warfare Era 93
Yosefi M. Seltzer
“What is this Bleeting of Sheep in My Ears”:
Spoils of War / Wars that Spoil 133
Moshe Sokolow
The Origin of Nations and the Shadow of Violence:
Theological Perspectives on Canaan and Amalek 163
Shalom Carmy
Amalek and the Seven Nations: A Case of Law vs. Morality 201
Norman Lamm

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International Law and Halakhah 239
Jeremy Wieder
International Law, Israel, and the Use of Force:
Historic Perspectives/Current Perplexities 265
Michla Pomerance
“Dilemmas of Military Service in Israel:
The Religious Dimension 313
Stuart A. Cohen
Attitudes Towards the Use of Military Force in Ideological
Currents of Religious Zionism 341
Elie Holzer
Military Service: Ambivalence and Contradiction 415
Judith Bleich
War in Jewish Apocalyptic Thought 477
Lawrence H. Schiffman
Models of Reconciliation and Coexistence in Jewish Sources 497
Dov S. Zakheim
The Orthodox Forum Sixteenth Conference
List of Participants 533

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Other Volumes in the Orthodox Forum Series
Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy
edited by Moshe Z. Sokol
Jewish Tradition and the Non-Traditional Jew
edited by Jacob J. Schacter
Israel as a Religious Reality
edited by Chaim I. Waxman
Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah:
Contributions and Limitations
edited by Shalom Carmy
Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought and Law
edited by David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman, and Nathan J. Diament
Engaging Modernity:
Rabbinic Leaders and the Challenge of the Twentieth Century
edited by Moshe Z. Sokol
Jewish Perspectives on the Experience of Suffering
edited by Shalom Carmy
Jewish Business Ethics: The Firm and Its Stakeholders
edited by Aaron Levine and Moses Pava
Tolerance, Dissent, and Democracy:
Philosophical, Historical, and Halakhic Perspectives
edited by Moshe Z. Sokol
Jewish Spirituality and Divine Law
edited by Adam Mintz and Lawrence Schiffman
Formulating Responses in an Egalitarian Age
edited by Marc D. Stern
Judaism, Science, and Moral Responsibility
edited by Yitzhak Berger and David Shatz
Lomdus: The Conceptual Approach to Jewish Learning
edited by Yosef Blau
Rabbinic and Lay Communal Authority
edited by Suzanne Last Stone and Robert S. Hirt

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Attitudes Towards the
Use of Military Force in
Ideological Currents of
Religious Zionism
Elie Holzer

The very possibility that the Jewish people, as a national-political
entity, would fight its own wars was thought for many generations
unrealistic and beyond the bounds of history. For religious Jews,
fighting wars seemed little more than a remembrance of things past,
perhaps also to be associated with a utopian, messianic future. There
were two different varieties of this utopian dream: a nationalistic-
messianic variety, essentially a reconstruction of ancient times, when
God and/or Israel fought the nations; and a universal, eschatological
variety, in which “nation shall not take up sword against nation” – the

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342 Elie Holzer

Jewish people and the site of the Temple would be a destination for
pilgrims of all nations.1
However, the historical developments of the twentieth century
transplanted the idea of a fighting Jewish army from its utopian
context into historical reality. How was this new reality internalized
by religious ideology?
This question should, I believe, be applied over a wider canvas:
Nationalist-Zionist ideology profoundly transformed the ethos of
passivity once typical of observant Jews, as solution of the existential
problems of the Jewish people demanded a return to political activ-
ism. In time, the collective’s ability – sometimes also need – to resort
to military power became one of the most extreme expressions of
this activist ethos. Religious Zionism, by definition, internalized the
call for political activism.2 Its ideology combined several different
outlooks, all of which grew out of a commitment both to the new
reality (the emergence of the secular Jewish nationalism and the
establishment of the State of Israel) and to the normative sources
of Judaism as they interpreted them. For a religious outlook that
identifies with the Jewish-nationalist movement, what normative
imperative is implied by nationalism, and how does it relate to re-
ligious norms? How can the normative imperatives of religion be
reconciled with the emergence of secular Jewish nationalism, and
how do these imperatives relate to physical, military activism and
to possible confrontation with other nations? In other words, what
happens to a religious outlook – committed to ideas of a religious,
ethical mission, a glorious national and military past, a present
typified by political and military passivity, a messianic future which
seems violent on the one hand but pacifistic and harmonious on the
other – when it encounters a nationalism that advocates a return to
political and perhaps even military activism? Are these two norma-
tive systems seen as contradictory, complementary, identical, or per-
haps just neutral? And what were the positions of religious-Zionist
thinkers vis-à-vis the possibility of a return to military activism and,
consequently, vis-à-vis the very phenomenon of the use of military
force as a collective?
This article will examine these questions on a theoretical and

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 343

a typological level.3 Three ideological models, exemplified by three

thinkers whose views were formed in the early days of Zionism, will
be described. In addition, the processes that developed in each of
the models, in light of the development of a violent political real-
ity and the existence of a Jewish state embroiled in warfare, will be
In the harmonistic-dialectical model it will be shown how, by
endowing Jewish nationalism with a spiritual, teleological, and
messianic meaning, R. Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) sought to
absorb Jewish nationalism and the implied activism into his religious
thought. It will be seen that this is a pattern of “redemptive inter-
pretation.” Thus, for example, this line of thought seeks to ascribe
religious significance to expressions of activism such as the return
to agricultural labor, which R. Kook considered a harbinger of the
“Manifest Redemption.” In his vision, the nation of Israel would re-
turn to the political and historical stage without need of any military
action. Normatively speaking, this vision would have contradicted
both the messianic mission entrusted to the Jewish people and the
prohibition of the use of force to which it was committed by the
so-called “Three Oaths.”
My thesis is that the line adopted by R. Kook’s ideological
heirs expresses, in a paradoxical way, a reversal of positions while
maintaining a continuity of ideas. R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook and his
pupils viewed the phenomenon of military activism and Israel’s wars
through the lenses of the redemptive interpretation, whose roots lay
in R. Abraham Kook’s writings. However, R. Tzvi Yehudah’s ideologi-
cal adherence to his father’s thought turned several of its premises
on their heads: While for the elder R. Kook the achievement of
national revival without force was a hallmark of redemption, his
son and the latter’s pupils interpreted Israel’s renewed involvement
in military affairs and wars as yet another sign of ongoing, visible
redemption. In their view, military activism had also become an
expression of the “Manifest Redemption” (ha-ketz ha-megulleh)
and the renaissance of the “Uniqueness of Israel” (segullat Yisrael;
see below). It was no longer the messianic dialectic of the contrast
between the nations engaged in war and the Jewish people with its

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344 Elie Holzer

alternative culture; instead, the messianic dialectic existed within

the Jewish people itself. It would first have to make war against the
opponents of the culture that it represented; only then would it be
able harmoniously to fulfill its messianic function. Furthermore, R.
Kook senior’s perception no longer justified the actions of the secular
Jew alone; it also encompassed specific actions that raised ethical
questions. Put differently: The harmonistic language had internal-
ized a new element – the use of force.
One can therefore point to a gradual but unmistakable process
of radicalization, a progress from the interpretation of military re-
naissance and wars as having spiritual meaning, to a call for purpose-
ful military activity. In this model, religious thought seeks to blur
the distinctions between the normativeness of nationalism and the
normativeness of religion, attributing both to the same source. In
R. Kook senior’s thought, this argument underlies the assumption
that there will be no need for military activity. For his successors,
however, it made military activity itself an integral part of the overall
religious ideal.
The roots of the realistic-ethical model lie in the thought of R.
Isaac Jacob Reines (1839–1915). Underlying his approach is a concern
for the existential, real needs of the Jewish people, combined with
the hope for its spiritual renaissance. In R. Reines’ view, there are
two guiding principles: (a) the need to tackle problems that arise in
an unredeemed world conditioned by political interests; (b) the need
for adherence to the religious-ethical principles to which Jews are
committed, as expressed in the culture of the Book of which they are
the bearers, as against the culture of the Sword that characterizes the
rest of the world. This conception makes a clear distinction between
the need for political activism, on the one hand, and the prohibition
of political activity directed into messianic channels, on the other.
Inherent in this model is a “Kantian” halakhic approach, according
to which reality must be evaluated and judged in accordance with
primary ethical principles. Religious thought should not assimilate
new phenomena at any cost, but rather examine any new phenom-
enon and measure it against those basic imperatives.
In light of a changing reality, R. Reines’ principles evolved into

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 345

positions that supported the use of force in self-defense, but voiced

sharp religious-ethical criticism of belligerent radicalism or secu-
larization of the use of force. The use of force was seen as permitted
only if dictated by circumstances, not as part of the spiritual and
national revival of the Jewish people. In that context, the activist
ethos of Zionist nationalism cannot be seen as a normative competi-
tor of the Jewish religion, as long as it confines itself, as R. Reines
writes, to “safe measures which are legitimate according to the laws
of Judaism.”4 R. Reines himself was implying that military action per
se is forbidden, whereas his successors understood such statements
to refer to the use of force for purposes other than self-defense. In
other words, in this case, religion would act as a barrier against the
possible belligerent tendencies awakened by nationalism, though it
would not criticize nationalist-political ideology per se.
Our third model is the antithetical-critical model, whose roots
lie in the thought of R. Aharon Shmuel Tamares (1869–1931). In
this model, the concept of “Torah” becomes a critic of nationalist-
political ideology when the latter becomes total and radical. Such
a position of nationalist-political ideology is liable to lead to moral
corruption, the worship of physical force, and an inevitable clash
with the religious-ethical mission of the Jewish people. It tramples
the status of the individual and in so doing violates the religious-
moral imperative (according to R. Tamares and R. Amiel) or the
commandment of divine worship (according to Yeshayahu Leibow-
itz); hence the necessity of criticism.
There is a tension in the thought of R. Tamares and R. Amiel
between their desire for the existence of an independent Jewish pol-
ity and their awareness that the Jewish people evolved a universal
outlook and ethical sensitivity because of its divorce from political
life. If so, given the ambitions of political Zionism, religion must
become a focus of religious-ethical criticism, and care must be taken
lest the new activist ethos dominate the ethical sensitivity and norms
that have evolved in the Jewish people.
Both R. Tamares and R. Amiel consider the “Torah” concept
first and foremost as a religious-ethical ethos, whereas Leibowitz
sees it as a religious law, defining the essence of divine worship.

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346 Elie Holzer

Nevertheless, Leibowitz may also be counted among the representa-

tives of the antithetical-critical approach, since the concept of “Torah”
plays a similar role for all three thinkers, as a transcendental factor
seeking to challenge the totality of the nationalist-political impera-
tive. Like R. Tamares and R. Amiel, Leibowitz expresses concern
primarily for the dangerous, immoral implications of that imperative.
In this model, therefore, religion not only has a restraining effect on
the possible belligerent tendencies of the Zionist enterprise, but it
also seeks to identify such tendencies, which it deems to be inherent
in the ideology of political nationalism, and to warn against them.

1. The dialectic-harmonistic model:

R. Abraham Isaac Kook and
his ideological heirs
It was R. Abraham Isaac Kook, more than any other thinker, who
incorporated political and historical activism into the framework
of a comprehensive religious outlook, as an integral component
of his messianic philosophy.5 In most of the subjects that he deals
with, R. Kook adopts a dialectical approach that enables him to
reconcile contrasts and contradictory phenomena, as for example
in his attitude to secular Zionism. That is not the case, however, in
regard to the use of force. For R. Kook, national redemption must
precede universal redemption. The essence of the messianic goal, in
his view, is the Torah state and the social life of the Jewish people,
which will become a model for the rest of the world. Such a position
necessarily implies the centrality of the harmonious influence of the
Jewish people on the nations in R. Kook’s messianic vision. This is
evident from his general descriptions of the messianic goal, which
do not provide for a confrontation between Israel and the nations
of the world, and from the normative imperatives imposed on the
Jewish people in the course of the realization of the messianic goal,
as it assembles in its particularistic state. In addition, R. Kook was
encouraged in his harmonistic outlook by the events of the First
World War and by the great cultural upheavals taking place among
the European nations.
As a rule, the Jewish people has an exclusive task to perform

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 347

in a process aimed at the restitution (tikkun) of Creation in general.

This ideal is expressed in observance of the precepts of the Torah,6
on its exoteric and esoteric levels, as a result of which spiritual ide-
als are realized in human life, individual as well as collective. Thus,
political organization is a necessary condition for achievement of
that task.7
The quest for universal influence is an essential part of the
process of national ingathering in the framework of a state. This
quest, in fact, possesses metaphysical status within the national idea
itself: it is inscribed, as it were, in the essence of the uniqueness of
the Jewish people. It is part of the divine presence in the world and
the basis for the Jewish nation’s desire to achieve its goal: “We must
invest the permanence of our position in the Land of Israel with
divine, holy, content…[That content] will surely be the pillar and
fortress of future world peace.” 8
Clearly, then, R. Kook was in favor of a return to political life in
order to serve as a moral and spiritual model.9 The important ques-
tion here is, what are the attitudes and modes of influence that the
Jewish people is supposed to establish, according to R. Kook, while
working toward that messianic goal? In other words, are the ideas we
have been considering relevant only to a far-off messianic age, or did
R. Kook expect – perhaps even demand – that this be the defining
principle of the political organization from its beginnings? Can a
distinction be made in R. Kook’s thought between the harmonious
conditions that will reign during the distant messianic era, and the
non-harmonious relationships existing at the start of the historical
process that will culminate in the messianic goal?
It is clear from the following passage, for example, that the
Jewish religion will not be disseminated by the use of force:

Very different is the spirit of the Lord that rests on Israel, which
is destined to be a light unto the world: It does not possess
the ability to spread by an encounter of conflict; for we have
not been commanded to raise the sword of war and to invoke
the Lord’s name to nations who know Him not. Only when
the name of Israel grows great, and many nations witness the

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348 Elie Holzer

sacred glory and magnificence and the universal peace that will
emerge from the glory of such sublime ideas, with which the
sanctity of Israel is imbued – [only then,] without an encounter
of conflict, without overpowering, will they hasten to seek the
Lord God of Israel.10

In other words: The moral limitation of activism is an inevitable

consequence of the desire to exert influence through harmony.11 As a
rule, when discussing the messianic era, R. Kook does not explicitly
distinguish between the use of force in self-defense or for any other
purpose. The passage just quoted implies that the use of force cannot
possibly be a means for achievement of the messianic goal.
Furthermore, the age of exile and non-participation in political
and military life has also had a beneficial effect, in that the Jewish
people acquired the quality of moral sensitivity and willingness.12
Now, in the messianic age, the Jewish people is called upon to re-
alize this moral principle in practice, in social and political life. It
is not surprising, therefore, that the moral principle received such
prominence in R. Kook’s discussion of the harmonious nature of
the messianic vision.
Alongside descriptive statements about the harmonious dimen-
sion of the messianic age, one also finds statements of a normative
nature, in which R. Kook demarcates the return to political activism,
excluding the use of military force. An obvious example of this is
his new interpretation of the Midrash of the “Three Oaths” (a. that
the nation not ascend “on the wall” [ba-homah: interpreted by Rashi
to mean ascending to the land of Israel by force]; b. that it not rebel
against the nations of the world; c. that it not attempt to “force the
End” by attempting to bring the Messiah before the proper time).13
In his view, the oaths impose a moral restriction on the Jewish
people, forbidding the use of military force even in the messianic
era. R. Kook thus converts the three oaths from a divine decree to
a religious-ethical imperative, thereby also expanding their scope.
They are no longer exclusively a decree of exile, but also a decree of
redemption. The oaths restrict messianic activism, confining it to
non-belligerent modes of operation.

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 349

R. Kook also found support for his position in historical events,

in particular the First World War. Somewhat paradoxically, he be-
lieved that those terrible events corroborated his harmonious thesis,
whose realization was imminent. The conflict, for him, became a
focus of messianic hopes. The world war represented the eradica-
tion of a religiously and morally corrupt culture and the emergence
of signs that a cultural alternative would be created by the Jewish
people. Since R. Kook’s historiosophy is essentially teleological, it
proposes its own “theodicy” in relation to such horrendous phe-
nomena as war. If human history is the embodiment of a process
of the advance and evolution of Creation, an expression of divine
providence, it is not surprising that even in wars “one must accept
the sublime content of the Lord’s light that reveals itself in marvelous
action, in particular in the events of these wars.” Therefore, “when
there is a great war in the world, a messianic power awakens. The
time of pruning has come, the pruning of tyrants, the wicked will be
eradicated from the world and the world will become fragrant, and
the voice of the turtledove will be heard in our land.”14 In R. Kook’s
system, historical events on the scale of a world war form part of
a process in which the world, and together with it human history,
achieve perfection. War plays a role in the evolving dialectic. It her-
alds the emergence of a religious-cultural alternative replacing the
culture that the war has obliterated. The terrible bloodshed, R. Kook
believes, demonstrates the failure of secularism, which cultivated
the use of force in its cultural and educational system. In contrast,
the culture represented by the Jewish people will rise on the ruins
of secular culture.
This is a dialectical process, whose actors are the gentile nations,
on the one hand, and the Jewish people, on the other. The very fact
that the Jewish people did not participate in the war has prepared it
and paved the way for its culture, for its return to the historical stage
as the bearer of a political-cultural alternative: “a political and social
state…at the pinnacle of human culture.”15 This idea confirms my
thesis that, in R. Kook’s thought, a military confrontation with the
participation of the Jewish people is inconsistent with its national
and spiritual renaissance as he understood it. It was not merely a

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350 Elie Holzer

question of theory; R. Kook demanded that the Zionist movement

prepare itself in practical and diplomatic terms for the day after the
To summarize the harmonious nature of R. Kook’s messianic vi-
sion, let us consider a passage from his writings that clearly expresses
my thesis up to this point. The passage in question clearly illustrates
the way in which the two dimensions – messianic goal and historical
reality – nourish each other and generate a unified perception. As
far as one can tell from the context, it was written toward the end of
the First World War, in the wake of the Balfour Declaration.
First, R. Kook creates a link between ethical self-perfection in
the Diaspora and his harmonious messianic vision: “We abandoned
world politics under duress but also out of an inner desire, until
that joyous time should come when it will be possible to administer
a state without evil and barbarism: that is the time for which we
yearn.”17 The Jewish people will return to the historical arena after
the world has experienced an ethical and cultural transformation,
creating a world in which it will be able to concern itself with poli-
tics without bloodshed: “But the delay is a necessary delay, our soul
abhors the appalling sins of statehood in evil times.”
R. Kook is presumably referring here to the qualities in the
unique quality (segullah) of Israel that make it abhor the use of force.
He adds, “It is not fitting for Jacob to engage in statehood when it
involves bloodshed, when it demands a talent for evil.” Up to this
point the author has been describing his vision. He now goes on to
evaluate reality as he sees it:

Lo, the time has come, and very soon the world will become
fragrant and we shall be able to prepare ourselves, for it is now
possible for us to administer our state on foundations of good,
wisdom, integrity, and clear divine illumination.

Note the expression “the world will become fragrant’ (He-

brew: yitbassem), alluding to the beginning of the redemption
process, which figures in R. Kook’s writings in a variety of contexts.
One such context is his description, already quoted above, of the

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 351

consequences of the First World War and the ensuing destruction

of culture: “The wicked will be eradicated from the world and the
world will become fragrant, and the voice of the turtledove will be
heard in our land.”18
How did R. Kook envisage his harmonious perception as part
of the normative system of re-emergent Jewish nationalism? For
example, was he not apprehensive that the national ideology might
cultivate an ethos of physical force, which would be ethically ques-
tionable in light of his own messianic vision? Furthermore, as we
know, R. Kook considered the national Jewish awakening as a sign,
perhaps even as the first stage, of the realization of the redemptive
process. If so, what guarantee did he have that secular Zionism,
which had rebelled against the traditional ethos of Torah and mitz-
vot, would not breach the limits of permitted activity and become a
violent nationalistic movement?
In the present context, there is no need to repeat what is known
of R. Kook’s attitude to secular Zionism.19 On the other hand, in
order to understand how his ideological successors developed the
idea of the use of force, I think it necessary to describe the herme-
neutical elements that informed his attitude to the phenomenon of
secular Jewish nationalism.
Basically, R. Kook’s approach to these questions has distinct
Hegelian elements. This approach does not distinguish between the
ideal and the real. Hegel took reality for granted, considering it as
the true ethical essence. While not ignoring the phenomenon of evil,
he argued that a philosopher should not criticize reality but justify it
from the standpoint of speculative thought. All of reality, including
the evil within it, is the embodiment of reason, and it is the task of
the historiosopher to reveal this.20

a) Explanation of the phenomenon

For the speculative philosopher of history, writes Isaiah Berlin, the
explanation of an event, that is, its description as it “truly is…is to
discover its purpose.” This is a typical teleological outlook, postu-
lating “a category or framework in terms of which everything is, or
should be, conceived and described.”21 Therefore, for any historical

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352 Elie Holzer

process, “the question ‘why?’ means ‘in pursuit of what unalterable

goal?’ ”22 In other words: the interpretive approach finds expression
in the revealed explanation. We call this approach “redemptive inter-
pretation”: The interpretation, as it were, illuminates a phenomenon
that was previously shrouded in the darkness of incomprehension
by placing it in a purposeful frame. Redemptive interpretation has
two properties:
(1) Totality: It possesses a dimension of totality, in the sense
that it sometimes seeks to explain the most minute details of certain
events. It should be noted that R. Kook believed a priori that all such
details combine to create a single, total meaning, though he never
claimed to know how this was done; thus, for example, he considered
the First World War as also being part of a comprehensive order.23
(2) Redemptive interpretation is harmonistic, in the sense that
it tries as far as possible to explain all, even seemingly contradictory
details, as being different parts of a single, comprehensive whole.24
One might say that in R. Kook’s system the messianic concept creates
the teleological frame through which the phenomenon of secular
Jewish nationalism should be interpreted:

If the idea of our national renaissance were not so lofty and

supreme, so that its content includes a comprehensive world-
vision that encompasses the whole of humankind and existence
as a whole, we could not connect to it at all with such internality
of our soul.25

b) The reason for the phenomenon

In addition to the meaning ascribed to a phenomenon as an “ex-
planation,” R. Kook’s redemptive interpretation also seeks to give it
meaning by directing attention to the reason for the phenomenon.
In other words, given some phenomenon, one can emphasize its
invisible origin. In this sense, the concept of the segullah, a special
property, uniqueness, inherent in the Jewish people, is seen as a
reason for the phenomenon of Jewish nationalism.
R. Kook understands the essence of segullah in an ontological
sense: it sets Israel apart from other nations.26 He is thus led to a dis-

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 353

tinction that is highly significant in relation to all aspects of secular

Zionism, namely, the distinction between actions that express the
segullah and actions that derive from behirah, choice. The segullah
is “the power of its inner sanctity, located in the nature of the soul
by God’s will, like the nature of any thing in reality, which cannot
possibly change, for He spoke and it was.”27 That is, the weight of
actions that derive from segullah does not depend on the awareness
and consciousness of the actors, but on the “specific weight” or in-
trinsic value of those actions. On the other hand, actions that derive
from choice depend on a person’s intent and consciousness. Through
this distinction, R. Kook creates a sacralization of the ethos and the
enterprise that the nationalist ideology seeks to achieve: “The part of
segullah is great, immeasurably so, much greater and holier than the
part dependent on choice.” It is the segullah that provides the reason
for the normative activism inherent in the nationalist ideology. The
normative imperatives of religion and nationality thus combine to
form a single unit that is completely holy. Hence the realization of
activism is also in holiness:

The spirit of Israel is so linked with the spirit of God that even
a person who says he does not need the spirit of the Lord at
all, insofar as he says that he desires the spirit of Israel, the
divine spirit inspires the innermost core of his desires, even
against his will. A single individual may cut himself off from
the source of life, but not the entire nation of the collectivity
of Israel (keneset Yisrael); hence all the achievements of the
nation, which it loves by virtue of its national spirit, are all in-
formed by the spirit of God: Its land, its language, its existence
in history, its customs…The spirit of the Lord and the spirit
of Israel are one.28

In other words, the foundation of nationality – identification

with it and devotion to it – is directly nourished by sanctity, and
there cannot possibly be any theoretical contradiction between
nationality and religious imperatives.29
The innovative element in this doctrine is R. Kook’s espousal of

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354 Elie Holzer

the principle that actions are good when performed by good people;
that is to say, by people who by their very essence are linked with the
good. In other words, ontology precedes ethics or, at least, it is the
principal criterion for the moral judgment of actions when they are
performed by the collective or out of devotion to the collective.30
The two elements of redemptive interpretation underlying R.
Kook’s all-embracing conception are linked together in one expres-
sion: “In the footsteps of the messiah the power of segullah waxes
great.”31 That is to say, the two elements nourish one another: The
segullah will reveal its full force only in the messianic era; in fact,
the very essence of the messianic era is its creation of strong expres-
sions of segullah – and not necessarily through observance of the
Torah and the mitzvot. This idea originates in the theory of opposites,
which in turn derives from kabbalistic and Hasidic sources and may
also be found in R. Kook’s thought.32
Which field of secular Zionist activity did R. Kook consider
as suitable for redemptive interpretation, as being an expression of
segullah or of the complete realization of the Torah in accordance
with the messianic goal? R. Kook applied the expression ha-ketz ha-
megulleh (literally: “the manifest Redemption”) to numerous aspects
of Zionist activity. This expression, originating in the Talmud,33 di-
rects attention to concrete, historical realia, pointing out the signs
of imminent redemption. It occurs frequently in R. Kook’s writings,
and note should be taken of the phenomena to which he applies
it – they represent the beginnings of national and spiritual revival.
The importance of these phenomena lies in their being an expres-
sion of the internalization of activism in R. Kook’s comprehensive
religious outlook. We shall see later that his successors appealed to
this term in order to “sanctify” military activity. R. Kook himself
uses the expression in several contexts. Thus, for example:

1. He applies it to the renewed settlement and flourishing agri-

culture of the Land of Israel: “Through ha-ketz ha-megulleh of
the hills of Israel, which are beginning to yield branch and fruit
for the holy nation, the returnees from Exile…”34
2. In connection with the Jews’ re-entry into public life: “In a

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 355

period when the time of ha-ketz ha-megulleh has already ar-

rived: To be seen in life, in restoring the content of its general
life to the abode of its life, to the Holy Land and its reconstruc-
3. In relation to activity in all realms of life, in order to achieve
the universal messianic goal.

These examples all illustrate the sanctification of the new ethos.

R. Kook also stresses the connection between the sanctification of
the new ethos and the need to cultivate physical activity; however,
he does so very cautiously, warning that such activity should not
lead to a cult of physical rather than moral strength.36
R. Kook was aware of the moral dangers inherent in the mod-
ern nationalist ideology, which he feared might degenerate into
narrow ultra-nationalism. If not merged with religion, nationalism
is in danger of becoming distorted:

Secular nationalism becomes defiled by the filth of hatred for

one’s fellow, which is a cover for many hidden evil spirits; but
we shall succeed not by ejecting it from the generation’s soul,
but by vigorously striving to bring it to its supreme source, to
link it with the original sanctity from which it flows.37

But while warning against the moral dangers lying in wait for
the Jewish people, R. Kook assumed a priori that Israel’s segullah
would protect it from total moral corruption. In his view, non-rec-
ognition of this unique quality of the nation was liable to turn na-
tionalism into hatred and bloodshed. There is an obvious tension in
his thought: On the one hand, he warns against turning nationalism
into ultra-nationalism; on the other, he argues that such a conversion
is not possible thanks to the inherent segullah of the Jewish people.
One might say that the metaphysical element creates a conception
that prevents Jewish nationalism from falling into total, anti-ethical

A covenant has been made with the entire collectivity of Israel

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356 Elie Holzer

that it will not become wholly impure; though impurity will

be able to affect it, to create blemishes in it, it will not be able
to cut it off entirely from the sources of divine life.38

In sum, R. Kook’s concept of “the segullah of Israel” has be-

come, to some extent, a shielding, protective concept. This tension
in R. Kook’s writings – the danger of moral corruption as against
the reliance upon segullah to ensure that the corruption would not
be absolute – does not seem to be present in the thought of his son,
R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, and his followers.
R. Kook thus envisions a harmonious relationship between the
non-use of force by Israel in the messianic era, on the one hand, and
awareness of the tension between “protective” and critical elements,
on the other. This harmony, as we shall soon see, is no longer present
in the doctrines of his son, R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, and his disciples.
They assign nationalism a merely protective role and, more impor-
tantly, consider a return to the use of force as one of the harbingers
of redemption.39
We see, therefore, that the relation between R. Kook, on the one
hand, and R. Tzvi Yehudah and his disciples, on the other, may be
described as “reversal of positions” while at the same time maintain-
ing continuity of ideas. In other words, while in comparison with the
elder R. Kook, one finds his son espousing a different approach to
the use of force and the phenomenon of war, the apparent reversal
derives, paradoxically, from the son’s adoption and application of
principles inherent in the father’s thought.

R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook and his disciples:40

Reversal despite ideological continuity
Several studies of the thought of R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook and his
disciples have argued that it was the victory of the Six-Day War
that triggered the specifically religious attitudes to the use of force
and the renewed involvement of the Jewish people in military activ-
ity.41 However, a close reading of R. Tzvi Yehudah’s book Li-Netivot
Yisrael, which presents ideas written from the 1940s through 1967,
clearly indicates that most of the supposedly late views had been

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 357

advanced and had matured even before the Six-Day War. The war
indeed magnified their impact and intensified their wording, but it
did not create them.
Beginning in 1948, various articles by R. Tzvi Yehudah clearly
indicate that the idea of military involvement had become part of a
comprehensive religious outlook. For example, in 1948, two months
before the declaration of the State of Israel, R. Tzvi Yehudah writes
that Israel’s strength at that time was merely an expression of a spe-
cial divine property, a segullah, immanent in the nation. It was this
property that formed the basis for the emergence of the new Jewish
military organizations:

Since then, from the “Eretz-Israel Hebrew Regiment” and the

“American Jewish Legion” at the end of the previous World
War, to “The Jewish Brigade” at the end of the Second World
War, we have seen the gradual consolidation of the revealed
might of the Lord our God, God of the Hosts of Israel, Who
was named “[Lord of] Hosts” only after Israel (Shavu’ot 35b),
Who gives us the power to succeed (Deut. 8:18) in the mighty
deeds of our days, against all the nations who surround us, to
appear before Him in Zion. Since then, the path of redemp-
tion has gradually been prepared by His awesome deeds and
wonderful salvation.42

Not only is emphasis laid on the confrontation between Israel and

the nations at the time of redemption – the confrontation is attrib-
uted to God’s will. This is an expression of the immanent conception
of the segullah of Israel. Through his redemptive interpretation, R.
Kook senior had argued that the secular national rebellion embodies
a divine revelation. This was a descriptive approach to the new reality,
resulting in a comprehensive religious outlook in which what exists
is transformed into what should be. The son was now expressing a
similar approach in relation to the renewed military involvement of
the Jewish people, which should be understood as part of the revival
in preparation for the messianic era.
Like his father, R. Tzvi Yehudah also uses the messianic context

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358 Elie Holzer

in order to expand the meaning of the new phenomena. Hence any-

one who participates in military action is required to understand the
meaning of such actions in light of the great messianic vision:

Let every person in the army of Israel know and remember his
vital membership in the army of the Sovereign of the World,
his historical and ideal role in the supreme mission of guiding
the understanding of our generations.43

It was obvious to R. Tzvi Yehudah that a single thread of thought led

from his father’s views to his own. Thus, for example, R. Kook senior
had been thrilled by the immigration of so many Jews to the Land
of Israel, seeing it as a sign of imminent redemption. And now R.
Tzvi Yehudah himself thought it quite natural to mention immigra-
tion to the Land of Israel in one breath with military activism. Both
phenomena, immigration and military activism, represented the
revelation of the Shekhinah in the era of Redemption.44 In general,
the idea of the segullah, the uniqueness of the nation, as a totalizing
concept is a familiar element in modern nationalist ideologies as
well. Thus, for example, Talmon distinguishes between two demo-
cratic ideologies: the liberal democratic school and the totalitarian
democratic school. He defines totalitarian ideology as follows:

It may be called political Messianism in the sense that it pos-

tulates a preordained, harmonious and perfect scheme of
things, to which men are irresistibly driven, and at which they
are bound to arrive. It recognizes ultimately only one plane
of existence, the political…. Its political ideas are not a set of
pragmatic precepts or a body of devices applicable to a special
branch of human endeavour. They are an integral part of an
all-embracing and coherent philosophy.45

Two central ideas of totalitarian ideology stand out in Talmon’s

analysis: It is comprehensive, “all-embracing,” and it assigns priority
to the active, political dimension of life. In the present context, I shall
briefly summarize the dimensions of modern Jewish nationalism

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 359

to which redemptive interpretation attributes a total dimension of

sanctity. It will be seen that this position inevitably implies internal-
ization of the idea of the use of military force as a basic value.
R. Tzvi Yehudah indeed demands an understanding of the gen-
eral picture, without which the religious significance of the period
and its events cannot possibly be grasped:

We must accustom ourselves to see, to look, to encounter

the Lord of the Universe in the march of generations. The
world is not ownerless, nothing happens by chance. One’s
view of the world must be comprehensive: the divine history
of Creation.46

One of the characteristic features of the harmonistic conception is

its tendency to modify whatever seems to deviate from the overall
picture in order to force it back into the mold. In other words, reali-
ties must sometimes be adapted and adjusted:

…seeing the unity, perfection, wholeness…. If there at times

seems to be a blemish in the nation of Israel, that is because
one is seeing only one particular thing or one isolated case,
without seeing everything from a complete, all-inclusive, point
of view.

In terms of the Aristotelian distinction, a “complete, all-inclusive”

point of view is not content without form, but it acquires different
dimensions of reality – in particular, as Talmon pointed out, the
political dimension. In the “complete” view, the collective dimension,
nationality is considered something total and wholly sacred.47
Of course, the real polity, the state, also assumes a status of

This is the state that Ben-Gurion declared some years ago

before all the nations of the world. Ben-Gurion was an unbe-
liever, I knew him. In the religious sense he was an unbeliever.
Nevertheless, “The Holy One, blessed be He, entrusts His

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360 Elie Holzer

message to all.” There is an order of souls, and he [Ben-Gurion]

was merited to be the person who arranged our indepen-

We have already seen that in R. Kook senior’s thought, any under-

taking, any new ethos, any event resulting from the initiative of the
nation or of the sovereign state of Israel, will be interpreted as an
expression of “sanctity,” both because it is undertaken by “the nation,”
which possesses the segullah that embodies God’s presence in hu-
man history and because it is a meaningful element in the context of
the ongoing process of redemption. Now, just as R. Abraham Kook
tried to apply redemptive interpretation even to the small details of
the First World War, his spiritual heirs seek to do the same for the
Jewish state. This total outlook is aptly phrased by two rabbis who
were students of R. Tzvi Yehudah, for example:

The general reality, not of one detail or another but of the en-
tire nation, of the entire state as a state, the state of the Jewish
people, is the state most closely associated with the name of
heaven. The Holy One, blessed be He, has no other nation, we
are His nation, and so, as a matter of course, everything that
happens in the state is associated with His name, may He be
exalted, and with every advance, the name of heaven is further

Here we have a typical expression of redemptive interpretation: The

emergence of the state has to be incorporated as a meaningful ele-
ment in the comprehensive outlook. Even national glory is seen as
totally sacred, in fact embodying divine glory. Once again, this is
a far-reaching expression of the total symbiosis of nationality and

In the entire Torah, the exoteric as well as the esoteric, it is

written that the glory of Israel is the glory of the Lord. Even
the Land of Israel and its settlement are a detail in comparison.

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 361

The foundation of everything is the divine glory that dwells

within us.50

Political sovereignty itself becomes an expression of God’s presence in

the world. This point needs special emphasis: The focus of religious
discourse is no longer observance of the mitzvot and ethics, but
political sovereignty. One expression of this idea is the use of the cat-
egory of defamation of God, hillul Hashem: As a rule, this expression
refers in our traditional sources to religious/ethical behavior,51 while
in R. Tzvi Yehudah’s view hillul Hashem is a function of the political
situation, the fact that the Jewish people lacks sovereignty:

When Israel are in a situation of a collective and a state, God’s

glory appears in the world, encompassing everything. On the
other hand, when there is no collective, no kingdom of Israel,
that is the most terrible hillul Hashem.52

Just as the state has a total dimension of sanctity, the institutions nec-
essary for its existence are not mere means toward an end, but also
expressions of sanctity. Most salient in this respect is the army:

The state needs an army, and therefore the army is sacred….

Divine might also reveals itself in the army, and thank God we
also have a magnificent army, whose reputation is known and
famed throughout the world.

This in turn implies the sanctity of military power and courage. Based
on the same “interpretive” principle proposed by R. Kook senior,
R. Tzvi Yehudah draws a direct line from his father’s thought to his
own time:

Everything that the Rav predicted one, two or more generations

ago is coming true. The Land of Israel in its full extent, produc-
ing its fruit, is in Jewish hands. All of Jerusalem is being built.
The immigration of the Jews of Russia. The might of the idf.53

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362 Elie Holzer

Similar thoughts are expressed by one of his disciples, R. Shlomo


Now the manifest redemption of the ingathering of our exiles

and the settlement of our land, which appeared about one
hundred years ago, has steadily progressed from then to now,
is gradually multiplying in its vast dimensions, in the renais-
sance of the nation and the land, the revival of the language,
the re-emergence of valor and the army, the renewal of our
independence and our release from gentile enslavement, and
the revival of the Torah – the Torah of the Land of Israel.54

Thus, this passage combines the same expressions of the “manifest

redemption” that were found in R. Kook senior’s writings, together
with renewed involvement in military matters. Significantly, by at-
tributing military re-involvement to the manifest redemption, the
writer is defining it as an expression of the re-emergent segullah
of Israel, and as one of the signs – perhaps even proofs – that the
age of redemption has begun. Any phenomenon associated with
the manifest redemption is ipso facto invested with a transcendent
dimension, a dimension of sanctity. This is stated explicitly by R.
Dov Leor, who points to God Himself as the source of the renewed
strength of the Jewish people: “The Lord God of Israel restored to
the Jewish nation the strength and courage to triumph.”55
Just as sovereignty has become a focus of the religious norm
subject to the concepts of kiddush Hashem and hillul Hashem, the
same is true with regard to the idf’s military victories: “So every
one of our successes, successes of the Jewish people, sanctifies the
name of heaven; every success of the idf is kiddush Hashem.”56 The
normative dimension of military activity is identified with religious
observance proper. While we shall not deal here with the halakhic
aspect of the subject, it is important to note that the view of military
activity as a mitzvah automatically implies that the means for per-
formance of the mitzvah are also sanctified. Indeed, when R. Tzvi
Yehudah was asked in 1967 if he did not consider military parades
on Israel’s Independence Day as a violation of the biblical admonish-

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 363

ment against the glorification of physical strength, he replied that,

since the conquest of the Land of Israel is a mitzvah, military weap-
ons are endowed with sanctity as the instruments of that mitzvah:
“Everything that is associated with this day of the re-instatement of
the kingdom of Israel – everything is holy!”57
Ultimately, the all-inclusive conception has been translated into
a call for increased military activism, to the extent of deliberate mili-
tary aggression. Up to this point, we have seen that the proponents of
redemptive interpretation, responding to a comprehensive religious
perception, sought to assimilate a dramatic change – the transition to
military activism. But it is now clear that this investment of military
matters with renewed sanctity, as restoring the nation’s ability to
observe the mitzvah of conquering the Land, is not limited merely
to military action in self-defense. As we have seen, an attempt has
been made via interpretation to assimilate the new reality into a
comprehensive, binding, religious outlook. This implies approval of
military activism per se. Nevertheless, I would say that explicit calls
for military initiatives, as a necessary measure in the implementation
of that comprehensive religious outlook, represents another stage
in the gradual internalization of military activism. In other words,
redemptive interpretation has become explicitly prescriptive. This
is perhaps the most extreme manifestation of the internalization of
military activism in this school of thought. The first stage was, in a
sense, the transition from ethos to Halakhah – the comprehensive
perception outlined, analyzed, and illustrated above is expressed in
particular in the reinstatement of the mitzvah to conquer the Land
of Israel by military means. Redemptive interpretation is in action,
but now it is capable even of reinstating the mitzvah. In the second
stage, the trend toward radicalization reaches a peak in explicit
appeals for military aggression, which are also rooted in the com-
prehensive outlook.
In religious movements, including the religious-Zionist move-
ment, the desire to apply religion to all walks of life is considered
as a way of internalizing modernity and the idea of man as a cre-
ator.58 R. Tzvi Yehudah and his disciples applied this idea to the
renewed possibility of fulfilling the mitzvah to conquer the Land

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364 Elie Holzer

by military means, though of course this was also a direct implica-

tion of redemptive interpretation. If the mitzvah of conquering the
Land by military means has always existed, but the Jewish people
could not perform it in practice as long as it was in Exile, it follows
that, in a time of redemption, the original status of Halakhah must
be restored:

It is the King Messiah who will restore the Jewish people to its
perfect, healthy, and normal state, to a state in which it will be
possible to observe Halakhah fully…Therefore, if when in Exile
we do not observe half of the mitzvot of the Torah because “for
our sins we were exiled from our Land and removed far away
from our country, and we cannot etc.,” that is to say, because we
are coerced, like a person who does not have an etrog… – but
when we are given an opportunity to emerge from the state of
coercion and approach the possibility of observing the entire
Torah, surely we shall hasten and make all efforts to do so….
The first and simplest messianism is a basic halakhic imperative,
the imperative to observe the Torah, the imperative to emerge
from the chains of coercion that were imposed upon us by the
destroyers of our country…to the holy freedom of realization
of Torah and mitzvah life in full.59

The possibility now presenting itself, to perform the mitzvah of

conquering the Land by military means, becomes part of the com-
prehensive outlook through the prism of the renewed observance
of Halakhah in toto. We know that according to R. Kook senior, any
person purchasing land in the Land of Israel was thereby perform-
ing the mitzvah of conquering the Land in our times. This was also
R. Reines’ interpretation of Nahmanides.60 This was so, R. Kook
explained, because the Jews had to be a “righteous nation” in Gen-
tile eyes – a view consistent with his messianic vision of universal
harmony. His ideological heirs clearly abandoned this interpretation
of the commandment, advocating instead conquest by war. Once
again, we find that a position rooted in redemptive interpretation

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 365

has been reversed. According to Hanan Porat, for example, historical

events play a decisive role in halakhic debate:

The mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel, as explained by…R.

Tzvi Yehudah…, must be examined not from the standpoint
of the laws of the Torah, but also from that of the vitality of
the Torah as revealed through the character and actions of this
nation, which is able to discern the will of the Creator in the
depths of its soul, even when it is not relying on something
written in a book…. The halakhic question, whether the mitz-
vah of the settlement of the Land of Israel is binding in our time,
and whether it should be fulfilled with devotion, has long been
decided. The law was decided and ruled by the Jewish people,
which mined the answer from the depths of its soul, from the
vitality of the Torah as revealed in its soul.61

Porat’s expression “the vitality of the Torah,” as against “the laws of

the Torah,” deserves special emphasis, as does his reference to “the
soul” of the nation as against “something written in a book.” Here
we have an apt expression of a meta-halakhic ideological concep-
tion that in this case, as we have stated, is decisive even in a halakhic
debate. There is perhaps no better example of the monistic approach
of this ideology: There is one ruling principle – the Torah’s vitality
is manifest in the soul of the nation and determines the laws of the
R. Tzvi Yehudah, in his halakhic deliberations on the religious
obligation to conquer the Land of Israel, frequently cites Nahman-
ides, who holds that this mitzvah is binding in every generation, not
only in the messianic age. R. Tzvi Yehudah, for his part, combines
Maimonides’ conception of the messianic age, as expounded in Mish-
neh Torah, and Nahmanides’ interpretation.62 The Jewish people, he
argues, has now been empowered to fulfill this mitzvah – and it is
able to do so. Nahmanides, indeed, has become a major source and
“canonical” figure for R. Tzvi Yehudah and his disciples: “Have we
not heard from the mouth of Nahmanides, ‘father of Israel,’ of the

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366 Elie Holzer

mitzvah of conquest and war? Thank God, we have been – and are
even now – merited to fulfill God’s command, the glory and might
of our army.”63 This is not halakhic discourse in the usual sense. R.
Tzvi Yehudah is not arguing merely that an opportunity has arisen
to fulfill a mitzvah that could not be observed for many generations.
His halakhic discourse is deeply – and avowedly – rooted in his mes-
sianic conception. Put differently: in this respect, too, redemption
has become an “explanation” in exegesis that “redeems” conquest
through war. “The fact that today we have, to some degree, a situa-
tion in which we rule the land, and that we have achieved this situ-
ation through our own powers – that constitutes an important part
of redemption. It is more than just the beginning of redemption
(athalta de-geulah) – it embodies an important aspect of contrast
with exile.”64 This position was adopted to such an extreme that the
new possibility of fulfilling the mitzvah to “blot out” Amalek was
greeted with joy.65
The special nature of the mitzvah to conquer the Land in this
school of thought is worthy of note. It is not merely “one more” mitz-
vah, important though it may be; it is considered a kind of “super-
mitzvah,” not subordinate to any other halakhic consideration, even
danger to life (pikuah nefesh). In R. Tzvi Yehudah’s view, the obliga-
tion exists and is halakhically binding; no discretion is allowed. On
the contrary: Theologically speaking, we are duty-bound to thank
God that the mitzvah can once again be performed.66
Summing up, the Jewish people’s return to the use of military
force is not to be perceived as a necessary evil, imposed upon it by
circumstances. On the contrary, the religious and ideological foun-
dations of Judaism have assimilated the phenomenon and made it an
explicit, supreme, religious value. In fact, some of R. Tzvi Yehudah’s
ideological heirs have taken the process of radicalization one step
further. This might perhaps be seen as a process in which Halakhah
shapes ethos: The renewed validity of the obligation to conquer the
Land of Israel by military means has produced, through redemptive
interpretation, a favorable attitude to deliberate military aggression.
Thus, for example, Hanan Porat, writing in 1978 about the Litany
Campaign, said: “The war should have been declared out of an inner

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 367

Jewish rhythm and not merely in response to the wickedness of the

world and the other nations. It should have been a response to the
End that is forcing us!”67
But that is not all. Even halakhic discourse exhibits a quantum
leap toward greater activism. It was stated above that the renewed
relevance of military matters was seen as part of a halakhic renais-
sance; it was still possible to argue that this was merely absorption
of an idea, not at the outset calling for action. Now, however, it
turns out that the halakhic imperative has made of military aggres-
sion an a priori halakhic obligation. As expressed, for example, by
R. Aviner:

We have to settle the Land even at the cost of war. Moreover,

even if there is peace, we must launch a war of independence to
conquer it. Without this Land, we are not the Jewish people!68

Notably, this rhetoric also alludes to the total, harmonistic outlook.

Ruling over the entire Land is part of the national identity. This
may be seen as a clear expression of a harmonistic position, whose
basic concept is the “nation” or “people” (Heb. am), here raised to
an explicitly metaphysical level. As we have seen, it is this position
that has made the nationalism-religion symbiosis possible. That is
to say, one of the consequences of the sanctity of nationality – the
principle of sovereignty – has been merged with military involve-
ment, which has also become an absolute “super-mitzvah.” Porat
writes emphatically, citing Nahmanides, of the religious obligation
to maintain Jewish sovereignty over all parts of the Land of Israel,
and he adds:

The mitzvah of settling the Land, which requires that the Jewish
people conquer its land from the foreigners that rule over it,
even at the cost of war – how is that consistent with the ethi-
cal desire for peace? How does it permit shedding the blood
of those Jews who may, God forbid, be killed by Gentiles, or
the blood of the Gentiles who may, God forbid, be killed by
ourselves?…True, we must restrict what we have said and stress

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368 Elie Holzer

that it is not our duty a priori to declare war and destroy the
Gentiles living in the Land…. But at any rate, if the nations
ruling the land are not willing to make peace with Israel and
recognize its sovereignty over the Land of Israel, then it is
universally agreed that the mitzvah of conquering the Land is
fully binding, even at the heavy cost of war.

There is yet another aspect of this internalization of the activist

ethos, to the extent of becoming normative. The human activism
born of a secular nationalist ideology sought to contrast respon-
sibility for initiative and human action in the real world with the
submissive passivity created by religious and messianic perceptions.
Now, however, military activism has blended into religious ideol-
ogy to such an extent that it is straining to breach the constraints
imposed by Realpolitik. In other words, if in the past religion was a
source of political and military passivity, of inability to cope in prac-
tice with problems and dangers entailed by historical reality, it has
now created an ideology that seeks, in the name of total “religious”
devotion in an age of redemption, to ignore real and historical data.
So while religion in pre-Zionist days, as a cause of political passivity,
hindered the Jews’ ability to deal with the political reality around
them, religious (messianic) faith has now engendered extreme ac-
tivism, refusal to take political constraints into consideration. Thus,
for example, R. Aviner contends that “to the extent that we devote
ourselves body and soul to the divine enterprise, with all the natural
means at our disposal, more and more miracles will appear from
heaven and combine with the natural frame of our actions.” This is
clearly a meta-halakhic position; devotion arouses miraculous in-
tervention by God. Aviner goes on to ask, what about the principle
that one should not rely on miracles? His answer: Such scruples have
no place at a time when events are set in motion by the redemptive
process: “In actions performed in the footsteps of the messiah, all
the more so when performed by a community, heavenly assistance
is far greater than measure for measure.”69
These sentiments are expressed with particular force when the
new ethos born of Zionism, which centered on human activism, is

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interpreted at the end of the day as an expression of divine activism.

Not only is it true that the limits imposed on political-messianic
activism by the “Three Oaths” have disappeared – from now on the
activism is primarily divine. Whereas it was once forbidden for hu-
man beings to force the issue by their own actions, God Himself is
now forcing Israel off the stage of history:

For they [= the observant Jews who oppose Zionism] have not
realized that it is not we, flesh and blood, who are forcing the
issue, but the “Owner,” the Sovereign of the Universe, Who is
forcing us; it is not the voice of flesh and blood but the voice of
the living God Who has knocked down the wall that separated
us from our homeland, calling to us, “Rise!”70

I believe these examples adequately demonstrate the absolute rever-

sal in the attitude to the activist ethos of political Zionism. While
the essence of early Zionism was the desire to abandon the passive,
spiritual positions of Diaspora life, seeking instead to influence
reality and shape it, activism has now been assimilated into the
harmonistic ideology to such an extent that realia themselves have
given way before a spiritual understanding of reality. One’s reference
point is determined not by the demands imposed by the empirical,
historical world, but by the realization of the divine plan.
At this point we come face to face with an intriguing question:
What do R. Abraham Isaac Kook’s ideological heirs think of their
spiritual father? Is his ethical interpretation of the “Three Oaths,”
through which he restricted the resumption of activism or the use
of force, still valid, or has it disappeared? How do R. Tzvi Yehudah
and his disciples relate to R. Kook senior’s harmonistic vision? What
religious significance could they ascribe to Israel’s wars in light of
his belief that the Jewish people would not wage war as part of the
redemptive process? How could they explain the confrontation be-
tween Israel and the nations after he had presented his harmonistic
vision as an essential foundation of that process?
It can, in fact, be shown that R. Tzvi Yehudah and his disciples
were guided in this connection by the principles of redemptive

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interpretation, but such a discussion would be beyond the scope

of this article. Suffice it to say here that the “Three Oaths,” which R.
Kook senior interprets as a moral obligation prohibiting the use of
military force in the messianic age, are again used by his ideologi-
cal successors as a divine decree that dictates political and military
passivity in the Diaspora – but that decree becomes null and void
in the messianic age.71 Moreover, Israel’s wars are now invested
with religious meaning. Just as R. Kook senior applied redemptive
interpretation to the First World War, considering it as a Sinnbild, a
symbol of profound internal events in a meta-historical order – his
successors did the same with regard to the wars of the modern State
of Israel.72 They understood the reasons and meaning of these wars
as expressed in a variety of ways. First, war is an expression of di-
vine presence.73 Second, war serves the divine plan in history. Thus,
R. Eliezer Waldman has written that the Six-Day War was God’s
device to bring the Jewish people, almost unwillingly, to sovereignty
over the different parts of the Land of Israel.74 Furthermore, it has
also been argued that the goal of war is educational-messianic. For
example, R. E. Avihayil contends that the repeated wars in Lebanon
are not an accident or a consequence of a particular geopolitical
constellation. The significance of the Lebanese war, he writes, should
be sought in the broad context of the redemption of the Land. He
criticizes the agreement to give up the south of Lebanon which,
in his view, is part of the Land of Israel. Terrorist attacks are, he
claims, part of God’s intervention, designed to induce the Jews to
seize all parts of the Land of Israel: Until we rectify the cause, until
we fulfill God’s word in the Torah, to return to all of our country,
the whip will continue to be wielded over us. We cannot evade our
Some writers even spoke of the wars as having an evolution-
ary meaning. R. Aviner, for example, holds that wars are part of the
national renaissance and growth in the age of redemption:

The War of the Peace of the Galilee [= the Lebanese War], like all
previous wars of Israel, constitutes a further stage in the national
maturing of the Jewish people. Out of its wars, our nation is

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gradually being born, even if the birth pangs are sometimes dif-
ficult to bear. Out of its wars, its salvation is also emerging.76

R. Kook senior envisaged a cultural, not military, confrontation be-

tween Israel and the nations in the messianic age. His spiritual heirs
are now explaining the Arab-Israel military conflict as a necessary
confrontation between the forces of good and their opponents.77
The main theoretical step taken by R. Tzvi Yehudah’s disciples is
the argument that his father’s harmonistic vision is a thing of the
future; wars and confrontation are a means toward its achievement,
a component in a kind of dialectical progress. An instructive illus-
tration of such “conversion” of R. Kook’s writings may be found in
the thought of R. Tzvi Tau. Unlike Aviner, Tau’s point of departure
is that the use of force cannot possibly be part of the realization of
universal redemption; he therefore rejects the idea that wars possess
messianic significance. Seeking to anchor his interpretation in the
writings of R. Kook himself, he explains them as follows (R. Kook’s
words italicized):

The nationhood of Israel in itself, in sense of national cour-

age and our own innermost sanctity, is not the supreme goal.
We have another frame of reference that must figure in our
lives – our attitude to the whole world as an ancient nation
[Heb. am olam = (lit.) a nation of the world]…. Therefore, it is
otherwise with God’s spirit that is upon Israel, which is destined
to be a light unto the nations not only in relation to themselves
but in relation to the whole world. It does not possess the quality
of confrontation, to expand through its strength, to overcome
through victory and courage, for we were not commanded to
carry the sword and wage war, to call in the Lord’s name upon
the nations who know Him not. Our wars are designed for the
establishment of our state, for establishment of our national
strength and courage, not in order to force the entire world to
accept the religion of Israel.78

Now, R. Kook senior made no distinction between national revival,

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372 Elie Holzer

which requires wars, and universal, harmonious, redemption. The

very opposite is true; the passage quoted by Tau, in its original
context, made no distinction between national revival and the uni-
versalistic ideal.
To our mind, this too is a good example of redemptive inter-
pretation of the writings and views of the person who, more than
anyone else, developed the principles of redemptive exegesis. That
is to say, since wars were part of historical reality, it was necessary
to “redeem” not only the phenomenon itself, in order to explain
its place in the process of redemption, but also – and in no lesser
degree – the views and writings of R. Kook himself !

2. The realistic-ethical model:

R. I.J. Reines and his ideological successors
The roots of the realistic-ethical model lie in the teachings of R. Reines,79
who founded the political “Mizrahi” movement in 1903. This model
is based on what I call the “realistic” and “ethical” principles. The
realistic principle seeks to initiate political and practical solutions
to the plight of the Jewish people as part of human, non-messianic,
history. It represents a perception committed first and foremost to the
idea of Kelal Yisrael, that is, responsibility for the Jewish collective as
a whole, irrespective of the way of life practiced by its different parts.
The term “ethical principle” is self-explanatory: commitment to the
religious and ethical principles that are binding for any Jew.
There is, indeed, an important difference between R. Reines’
position and that of the figures that we refer to as his ideological suc-
cessors. While he himself was generally opposed to military activism,
his ideological successors formulated a position in favor of military
organization and activity for purposes of self-defense. This change,
however, was a necessary outcome of historical circumstances. We
shall see that, despite the changing conditions, R. Reines’ successors’
discussions of the question of the use of force were informed by the
same two principles, and they adopted assumptions that were similar,
sometimes very similar, to his own.80 However, as we have dealt with
this ideological school at length elsewhere,81 a brief summary will
have to satisfy us here.

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R. Reines distinguishes between Exile and Redemption as two

states of the world, one of the major criteria for the distinction being
the presence of wars and bloodshed. In effect, he was speaking of two
opposing cultures, the culture of the Sword and the culture of the
Book. As long as humankind is steeped in the culture of the Sword,
that is, locked in warfare, the world as a whole is in Exile. In this
spirit, for example, R. Reines interprets the following statement of R.
Eliezer in the Midrash: “Sword and Book came down from heaven
intertwined. [God] said to them: If you do what is written in this
Book, you will be saved from this Sword, but if not, you will be slain
by this Sword.”82 The Midrash, he writes, teaches us that the world
may be ruled either by the Sword or by the Book. The two cannot
possibly rule in tandem: “For the Sword and the Book will oppose
one another, and their dominion and rule are intertwined, as being
follows close upon non-being.”83
The Beit ha-Midrash – the study house – is the place where the
culture of the Book is cultivated, a radical alternative to the culture
of the Sword rampant in the world: “There is no greater blasphemy
than to bring instruments of destruction into the house of Torah and
wisdom.” The transition from Exile to Redemption marks not only
a point in time but – and perhaps this is its main significance – a
radical shift of world culture; as to the transition between the culture
of the Book and the culture of the Sword, there is no middle ground,
no possible gradation between the two. This is true both existentially
and historically:

The dominion of the Sword and the spear and the dominion
of Torah and wisdom are like non-being and being, as being
always follows close upon non-being, and when non-being
comes to an end, being and reality always come straight after,
separated only by the wink of an eye, one leaves and one ar-
rives…. And when the dominion of the Sword and Destruction
disappear from the world, the dominion of Torah and wisdom
will take its place.84

These distinctions are not so much descriptive of the Gentile nations

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374 Elie Holzer

as they are of the Jewish people. Much has been written of R. Reines
as advocating a model of redemption to be found in earlier Jewish
sources, which Avi Ravitzky has called a “paradoxical conception.”85
Another manifestation of this is R. Reines’ discussion of the sig-
nificance of the First World War. Citing a saying of R. Eleazar bar
Avina: “If you see kingdoms warring with one another, expect the
advent of the Messiah,”86 R. Reines explains this Midrash as a source
for the basic idea of a sharp, dichotomic, distinction between Exile
and Redemption: The human condition in Exile is an antithetical
image of the situation in a redeemed world.87 Hence, we learn that
the messianic idea acts as a kind of regulative-ethical idea, against
which one can measure the distance between the world’s place in
the present and its place when that idea is actually realized. Wars
are scrutinized in light of the messianic goal, not internalized in a
philosophical framework, as envisaged by redemptive exegesis. Wars
not only do not herald redemption – they in fact imply that it is far
off in the future.
How, then, can one explain R. Reines’ role as the founder of
religious Zionism in a political context? How did he see the rise
of Jewish nationalism and the emergence of political Zionism?
Would he not have viewed the attempt to revive political activism,
even the mere attempt to gather some of the Jewish people in the
Land of Israel, as a kind of messianic-political activism? Was he not
apprehensive that the resumption of political action might entail
adopting the culture of the Sword? Might this not involve a contra-
diction, an inconsistency in R. Reines’ own attitudes, as has indeed
been claimed?88
Let us now briefly summarize the foundations of R. Reines’
teachings, then going on to illustrate how he and his ideological
successors shaped their position vis-à-vis the use of military force
on the basis of the two principles outlined above.
For R. Reines, the national and religious dimensions of Judaism
are intertwined. While he clearly recognizes the element of national
affiliation, he considers its content to be defined by the Torah and
the mitzvot. It was inconceivable to him, normatively speaking, that
there could be a secular national-Jewish existence. The ideological

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and axiological meaning of Jewish nationality is invested in the na-

tion that obeys the mitzvot of the Torah and adheres to its ideas.89
While R. Reines certainly admired self-sacrifice for the collective, the
aspiration to immigrate to the Land of Israel, and fulfillment of the
mitzvah to settle the Land, the fact is that secular Jewish nationalism,
as a social and ideological phenomenon, received no standing and
significance in his philosophy, whether positive or negative (that is,
he did not see it as a deliberate attempt at systematic secularization
of the Jewish people). Nevertheless, he believed that the rise of Jew-
ish nationalism was religiously meaningful: It was an act of Divine
Providence, expressing a first step toward stemming the tide of
assimilation. He did not believe, however, that it would necessarily
lead people back to a religious way of life.90 One cannot, therefore,
discern in his teachings any totalization of Jewish nationalism or of
Zionism. This “non-total” approach is the key to the attitudes of his
ideological successors to Israel’s wars and to the use of force. Even
at this stage, in fact, one can already point to two distinct herme-
neutical approaches.
Underlying R. Abraham Isaac Kook’s outlook is a primarily
teleological-descriptive approach: Events possess significance by
virtue of their being part of the Divine plan, whose goal is known
a priori. Accordingly, the interpreter can do no more than describe
the event, whose occurrence is inevitable. We have seen that this
approach, which we have called “redemptive exegesis,” is one of the
keys to understanding the internalization of the ethos of brute force
in the teachings of his spiritual successors. This is to be contrasted
with R. Reines’ approach, which characteristically measures reality
and phenomena on the basis of values. He was not aiming at a system
that interprets and “redeems” reality as perceived by the believer; it
is the believer’s task to analyze any phenomenon on the basis of the
possible intentions of those who brought it about, to choose between
the desired alternatives based on a system of guiding values and
ideas. Thus, what should be is not determined by what is; rather, the
data and constraints of reality must be examined in order to permit
realization of the desired values as far as possible.
The practical expression of these hermeneutical methods is

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relevant to the question of cooperation with the Zionist move-

ment – a question which, as far as the religious public is concerned,
was phrased in terms of cooperation with sinners.91 It was agreed
that the Jewish people was in dire straits, that Torah study itself
was insufficient to ensure continued physical existence; it was this
realization that persuaded R. Reines and his followers to recognize
the priority of the concept of Kelal Yisrael, the Jewish collective. The
concept expresses the value of unity, of a shared fate beyond the
differences between secular and traditionalist circles. R. Reines’ non-
total, pragmatic approach produced this conception. That is not to
say that the religious Zionist community never conducted a critical
examination of the nature of the national Jewish movement.92 The
novelty of R. Reines’ position was his attempt to embrace the realistic,
material aims of the Zionist endeavor as a guiding principle for his
own approach to Zionism. As long as he believed that the Zionist
goals were subordinate to Kelal Yisrael as a value, R. Reines was ready
for practical cooperation with political Zionism.93 Therefore, even
if Herzl did not envisage a political framework in which the Torah
would actually be realized, it was necessary and important to take a
positive approach to this attempt to find a solution for the difficult
condition of the Jewish people.
As a rule, R. Reines believed that Zionism had nothing to do
with the messianic idea; however, that did not affect one’s duty to
take political steps that might better the lot of the Jewish people, for
realistic, non-messianic goals:

However, there is no doubt that we are not only permitted but

even actually required to try and improve our very [grave]94
situation through safe measures which are legitimate accord-
ing to the laws of Judaism;95 for indeed the transfer to which
the Zionist movement aspires is by no means total, and at
best one can only hope to transfer a large part of our people
to Zion – so why should we not take up this task? The hope of
Redemption will not obstruct the path of search and endeavor
(Heb. hishtadlut), and people who think that wherever there
is hope there is no room for endeavor show that they do not

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understand the meaning of the word “hope” and its inherent

concept… Surely, the Torah permits the struggle for existence
by legitimate means, and it is a mitzvah, even a duty, to engage
in it.96

We will now illustrate the role of two principles in R. Reines’ philoso-

phy, the realistic principle and the religious-ethical principle, and
demonstrate the existence of the same two principles in positions
taken by religious figures in the 1930s and after the establishment
of the State of Israel.
The realistic principle draws on the national aspect of Juda-
ism, expressing itself in two ways. First, it ascribes religious, but
not messianic, significance to the Jewish national awakening. This
is a realistic position in the sense that it eschews totalization of the
phenomenon of Jewish nationalism, as expressed in the nature of the
debate over cooperation with it. Second, a sense of realism governs
the definition of the earthly goals of Zionism and the overriding
value behind political decisions – the existence and welfare of the
Jewish people in existing geopolitical conditions. R. Reines saw this
value as calling for political and historical activism, in a manner
fully consistent with the continued existence of the Jewish people
in the age of Exile.
The religious-ethical principle draws on the religious aspect of
Judaism, expressing itself in the present context in the content of the
nation’s religious-ethical ideals, in the “culture of the Book” exempli-
fied by the Jewish people. The role of this principle is to set the limits
of legitimate activity in the framework of political activism.
This concept was to guide Reines in situations that obliged him
to reach crucial decisions, as, for example, in the Uganda debate;97
as he wrote to Herzl after the Sixth Zionist Congress (August 1903),
in which the Uganda Scheme was proposed:

Nevertheless, we have acceded to the African proposal, because

we are attentive to the needs of the people, which we love more
than the land; and the needs of the people, whose situation is
deteriorating materially and spiritually, dictate a safe refuge,

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wherever it may be… If there is no Israel in the world, there is

no Zion in the world. 98

Underlying his approach was the concern for the existential

condition of the Jews, and it was this value that guided his actions.
He wrote repeatedly in this vein:

The Mizrahi as a religious party places the existence of the

Jewish people above the mitzvah and the desire to return to the
Land of Israel, but it rejects the territorialist approach, which
denies the sanctity and value of the Land of Israel. The hope to
return to the Land of Israel and its value in general are among
the foundations of the Jewish religion.99

This example clearly demonstrates the sharp distinction that R.

Reines made between two levels: the level of principle, or religion
or ideals, which treats ideas in their pristine purity (“among the
foundations of the Jewish religion”) but cannot necessarily be real-
ized in an era of Exile; and the level of the realistic, human situation,
which is of necessity fragmented – the era of Exile, in which actions
must be governed by realistic considerations in order to achieve
a well-defined goal, expressive of the fulfillment of an important
value. Another example of his realistic attitude to the world is his
establishment of a secondary-school and yeshivah in Lida. Though
the founder and leader of the Mizrahi, he did not see Zionism as the
be-all and end-all. Since he believed that Zionism would be able to
bring at best only part of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, he
attached much importance to the education of young Jews in the
Diaspora, to help them face a very difficult social, economic, and
spiritual situation.100
The root of the religious-ethical principle in R. Reines’ thought
is the messianic mission of the Jewish people, expressed, inter alia,
in the “culture of the Book,” as already mentioned. In his view, the
Torah, its study, and its fulfillment constitute the exclusive means
for the achievement of human ethical perfection. The tikkun (res-
toration, improvement) of humanity is first and foremost tikkun of

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the individual. The laws of the Torah are essentially human laws;
it is only by studying and obeying those laws that man becomes
“man.”101 Unlike R. Kook senior, however, R. Reines did not advo-
cate the realization of religious and ethical goals by political means.
His teachings concentrate, first and foremost, on the tikkun of the
individual. The objective of the study of Torah and the observance
of the mitzvot is to educate humanity and prepare it for a situation
in which human action will be shaped not by desire but by logic
and rational considerations. One of his most prominent criteria for
the establishment of the messianic time in history is the abolition of
war. According to R. Reines, the Jewish people’s existence in Exile
has a purpose: to enable the nation to achieve ethical and spiritual
perfection and so to prepare it for its messianic mission. One means
to that end was isolation from political life and avoidance of the need
to wage wars.102 The Rabbis of old, he believed, knowingly reshaped
the national ethos through the spiritualization of sources that they
deemed to be problematic in their emphasis on physical force.
While R. Reines embraced political activism as designed to
better the desperate condition of the Jewish people, he sought to
impose clearly defined constraints on that activism, to ensure that
it would not entail the use of military force. This, he believed, would
have been inconsistent with the mission of the Jewish people. One
of the most extreme expressions of that position was his ethical in-
terpretation of the Three Oaths. The oaths, he wrote, were meant to
prevent the Jews from engaging not in political activity per se, but
in the use of force. Rather than a Divine decree, they were an ethi-
cal-religious imperative, which will stay with the Jewish people until
the advent of the messiah. As I have shown elsewhere, R. Reines was
not content merely to propose a reinterpretation of the Three Oaths;
he used the concept itself as an exegetical principle in other contexts,
for example, in a sermon about the lessons the Talmud learns from
the Hasmonean Revolt, and even in a purely halakhic discussion, of
Nahmanides’ interpretation of the mitzvah of the conquest of the
Land of Israel.103 So what happens to the realistic-ethical perception
when reality turns violent?
The year 1936 marks the beginning of the period known as that

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380 Elie Holzer

of “blind terror.” While the New Yishuv had already experienced at-
tacks in the early 1920s and at the end of that decade,104 the generally
accepted view among historians is that only in 1936 did the leaders
of the Yishuv realize that, without proper military preparation and
without a military confrontation, the establishment of a Jewish state
was highly unlikely. Moreover, since the War of Independence, the
State of Israel has been embroiled in a war at least once each decade.
Given such development of a violent political reality, it was no longer
feasible to continue to advocate the military passivity that R. Reines
had postulated as a condition for joining the Zionist enterprise. Since
he died in 1915, he could not have formulated a position in relation
to the need for military organization. Indeed, his unique standpoint,
in its attempt to combine political activism with non-violent modes
of operation, was doomed to run aground on the rocks of the new
The new reality emerging in the Land of Israel heightened
the tension between the two principles of R. Reines’ teachings. On
the one hand, Realpolitik was necessary to ensure the welfare and
safety of the Jewish people, which now required the use of force as
well. On the other hand, there was a desire to adhere to the ethical
principles of the Torah, perhaps also an even broader ethos, which
frowned on the use of force in general. Thus, both in the 1930s and
later, certain religious-Zionist figures adopted a position in relation
to the use of force representative of what we have called the realistic
and ethical-religious principles. As a rule, this position recognizes
the need and value of the use of military force in self-defense, but at
the same time struggles to continue to cultivate an ethical-religious
sensitivity to bloodshed.
The voices heard in the 1930s came both from the Rabbinical
establishment and from the ranks of the ha-Po’el ha-Mizrahi move-
ment and the religious kibbutz movement. In later years similar
sentiments were voiced by members of the Mizrahi and such move-
ments as the Movement for Torah Judaism, Netivot Shalom, and
“Meimad.” These views will now be briefly reviewed.
One of the most prominent figures in the public debate among
religious-Zionist circles in the 1930s was Yeshayahu Bernstein, a

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leader of ha-Po’el ha-Mizrahi. Referring to indiscriminate anti-Arab

terror, he argues:

Heaven forfend that the seed of Israel should repudiate the

Rock from which they were hewn and the Torah of their God.
It was we who heard and accepted the [commandment] “Thou
shalt not kill” and for generations it has been absorbed in our
blood and our flesh.105
We are not commanded by our Torah to leave ourselves
unprotected, not to defend ourselves and fight for our lives. The
other’s blood is no redder than ours. But neither is our blood
redder than that of others. Everything that is permitted to us
in such situations is for lack of choice, of necessity, that cannot
be avoided without suicide.106

Accordingly, the objection to bloodshed was based on two principles:

it was implanted in the Torah, and had been internalized by the
Jewish people as a second nature. Here is a resounding, clear-cut
formulation of the principle of self-defense. A similar argument was
voiced by the rabbinical establishment of the time. Chief Rabbi Isaac
Herzog, for example, wrote in 1938:

The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands
of Esau. Indeed – the hands, the hands of defense, to defend
ourselves, to defend our lives, to fight for our homeland and
the cities of our God. Legitimate defense, such is the action of
the hands of Jacob. So did our forefathers.107

In this passage R. Herzog formulates, first of all, the principle of

the self-evident religious moral imperative (“the voice is the voice
of Jacob”), and then the principle of self-defense. This might be
considered one of the characteristics of the ethical principle in the
realistic-ethical perception. Just as it was clear to R. Reines that
some modes of action “cannot be admitted to the Congregation
of Israel,” so, too, there is a meta-halakhic, moral insight establish-
ing the point of departure for any discussion of the use of force. R.

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Reines expresses this moral insight in terms of the Three Oaths. In

the examples we have just considered, the moral insight is expressed
in such general terms as “spirit of the Torah,” and “morality of the
Torah,” which need no further proof from the sources or further
Remarkably, throughout the 1930s and 1940s we find almost
no halakhic discussion in rabbinical debates of the issues involved
in the use of force. R. Herzog, for example, called for self-control
and restraint in the name of “our holy Torah” or “the honor of our
people.”109 Another rabbinical figure in the Mizrahi movement, R.
Moshe Ostrovsky, was even more outspoken in this respect. He
condemned retaliatory operations not only because “Torah moral-
ity, on which we have been reared, decries these repulsive acts,” but
also because, in the context of self-restraint and refraining from
revenge, we must also learn from the civilized nations.110 He, too,
cited sources reflecting meta-halakhic values, such as the Mishnah,
“Who is a hero? – he that subdues his evil impulse” (Avot 4:1), or
Jacob’s rebuke of his sons Simeon and Levi (Gen. 49:5–7). A similar
observation is valid for other questions that were raised in the 1930s,
such as the partition of Palestine.111 Alongside the religious-moral
arguments, there were also arguments purporting to weigh the util-
ity of the use of force in political confrontations. Thus, for example,
the chief rabbi, in a manifesto issued in 1947, declared that since the
Yishuv was opposed to fighting the British, “any killing of persons,
whoever they might be – policemen, officials, soldiers…is the spill-
ing of innocent blood.”112
After the establishment of the State of Israel, it was almost
universally felt that the state was fighting for its very life. Neverthe-
less, in some cases the issue of the ethical limitations on the use of
force came up for discussion, and quite forcibly. In October 1953,
for example, after a series of terrorist acts, the Israel government
authorized the Israel Defense Forces to carry out a retaliatory raid on
the Arab village of Qibya. In the course of the raid, a large number
of houses were blown up and sixty-nine villagers, including women
and children, were killed. The raid shocked world public opinion
and became one of the most traumatic events in the history of the

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Israel-Arab conflict. The complete minutes of a government meeting

held three days later, on October 18, 1953, were published in April
1997. Notably, the most passionate ethically motivated reaction to the
operation came from the minister of welfare and religions, Moshe
Shapira of ha-Po’el ha-Mizrahi:

I do not wish to discuss the matter from a political point of view.

I want to discuss it from an ethical point of view. We cannot
accept such a reaction by any means. Throughout the years, we
have opposed this…. We have never said, Let the innocent be
swept away with the guilty…. We know what happened at Deir
Yassin. That happened in the heat of war, but nevertheless, we
were all so incensed!…. We said that such a path is forbidden
from a Jewish point of view…. Jews cannot act thus.113

Shapira was expressing a view shared by many Israelis who identified

with the Mizrahi movement. Thus, for example, ha-Po’el ha-Mizrahi
addressed its followers before the 1955 elections with an apology,
insisting that “we opposed the operation in Qibya.”
Another example of this line of thought was represented by
the Movement for Torah Judaism (Tenu’ah le-Yahadut shel Torah),
headed by Professor Ephraim Elimelekh Urbach, which was active
between 1964 and 1968. This small movement, most of whose mem-
bers belonged to the so-called “religious intelligentsia,” proposed,
in its founding assembly, to close two gaps: the gap between the
nation and its Torah, and the gap between Halakhah and political,
economic, and social realities.114 As to the use of force, Urbach
continued R. Reines’ interpretation of the concept of gevurah. Pro-
posing to explain the concept on the basis of R. Abraham I. Kook’s
teachings, he wrote:

What is gevurah? Gevurah is not expressed in extreme phrase-

ology or saber-rattling. R. Kook, who is frequently quoted,
explains the blessing, “Who girds Israel with might [gevurah]”
as follows: Israel’s might is a special kind of might, a might
that excels not in conquest of others, but relates mainly to a

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person’s conquest of himself. That is the might with which

Israel is girded, which subordinates itself to the element of pure
morality and the elevation of man as superior to beast.

After the Six-Day War, the ideas of R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook and his
disciples gained increasing currency. In reaction, several religious-
Zionist movements were established in the late 1970s and early 1980s,
such as Oz ve-Shalom and Netivot Shalom; later, in 1987, the “Meimad”
movement was founded. Despite the differences in nuance between
these movements, they all spoke in a religious-ethical voice, advocat-
ing a realistic approach in the two senses proposed above. In other
words, their supreme value was of the idea of the Jewish people’s
welfare in the real world. It is striking that the proponents of the real-
istic-ethical position have aimed their criticism at the elements of the
harmonistic-dialectical position as represented by R. Tzvi Yehudah
and his followers, seeking to undermine that position and suggest
an alternative. Almost all of them are concerned primarily with the
practical and ethical implications of the theological conception of
the period. They attack the physical and military activism implied by
the harmonistic-dialectical position, which they term a “messianic
ideology.” Moreover, like R. Reines, they stress the ethical-religious
obligations of the Jew. They seem to be saying: Both things of which
R. Reines warned – political-messianic activism and the ethos of
brute strength and militarism – have materialized, of all places, in
an important school of religious Zionism, that of R. Tzvi Yehudah
Kook and his disciples. They deplore the radical messianic position
and its political and ethical influence, expressing a demand to base
the policies of the Jewish people on values.
Thus, for example, one of the founders of Netivot Shalom,
Aviezer Ravitzky, believes that the root of this military radicalism is
the definition of our time as the messianic age:

No more the absolute messianic model, but the model that

emerges in light of the period of the Judges, the kingdom of
Judah, and the kingdom of Israel, and not less that emerging in
light of the Second Temple and the Hasmonean kingdom.115

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Similarly, R. Yehudah Amital, referring to the Lebanon War,


The struggle for the Land of Israel has assumed a militant,

total, image. What is the meaning of this militancy?… For
every problem there is only one answer: to take an unyielding,
hawkish line.116

Representatives of this line of thought, recognizing the need to weigh

different values against one another, favored a realistic approach. We
have already seen that in R. Reines’ view, whenever it was necessary
to make such choices, it was the welfare and condition of the Jewish
people that tipped the scales. Similarly, we find R. Yehudah Amital
writing in the 1980s and 1990s, using almost the same phraseology
as R. Reines:

There is a certain scale of values in Judaism, and whoever fails

to differentiate between “holy” and “holy” will ultimately not
differentiate between “holy” and “profane.” The order in the
scale of values of which we are speaking is: Israel, Torah, the
Land of Israel. The interest of the people of Israel takes prece-
dence over the interest of the Land of Israel.117

Here is an emphatic representation of the realistic principle as

embodied in a scale of values.118 R. Amital is repeating R. Reines’
formulation in his letter to Herzl – and we have come full circle.

3. The antithetical-critical model:

The thought of R. Aharon Shmuel
Tamares and its offshoots
R. Aharon Shmuel Tamares, R. Moshe Avigdor Amiel, and, to a
considerable degree, also Yeshayahu Leibowitz, reflect what we have
called here the antithetical-critical position. All three figures see in
“Torah” the defining concept of Judaism. According to R. Tamares
and R. Amiel, the concept includes a clear-cut humanistic-ethical
commitment. Leibowitz, on the other hand, considers Torah to be a

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divine commandment that a person accepts in order to worship God.

Despite the differences, a salient element in the thought of all three
is the “antithetical,” in the sense that they perceive a confrontation
between the “Torah” concept, normatively and programmatically
speaking, and the values characteristic of political nationalism,
and particularly the adoration of physical force. While R. Abraham
Kook’s position and that of his disciples was typically harmonistic,
the “antithetical” thinkers see religion in general, and “Torah” in
particular, as transcendental relative to the total demands of political
nationalism, as a radical alternative to those demands. I have also
called this position “critical”: all three considered the emergence of
radical Jewish political nationalism – the main target of their criti-
cism – not only as an ideological revolution, but as a religious and
ethical danger of the first stamp. Criticism, they believe, is in fact the
task of religion, as a barrier against programmatic and normative
political nationalism. Nevertheless, clearly expressed in the writings
of all three figures is the tension between harsh criticism, on the one
hand, and a significant measure of identification with the Zionist
enterprise and desire to guarantee the Jewish people an independent
political framework, on the other. In this context, one might say that
none of the three distinguished to a sufficient degree between the
different conceptions of nationalism in the Zionist movement – a
fault which at times led them to indiscriminate statements.119
Since there is a considerable literature on the thought of Y.
Leibowitz,120 we shall concentrate in what follows on the teachings
of R. Tamares121 and R. Amiel.122 The two lived in very different
environments. Most of R. Amiel’s Torah creativity took place during
his terms of office first as Chief Rabbi of Antwerp and later as the
Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. R. Tamares, on the other hand, spent
all his life in Eastern Europe. R. Amiel occupied various positions in
the rabbinical establishment and was prominent in the conferences
of the Mizrahi movement during the 1930s, so that his scathing criti-
cism, which did not even spare the Mizrahi movement, stands out
in particular. R. Tamares, in contrast, preferred to remain for the
most part the rabbi of a small community, remote from the religious
establishment. Despite these differences, and the fact that nowhere

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in their writings do they explicitly refer to one another (it is highly

doubtful whether they were even acquainted with each other’s writ-
ings), we shall present their formulations side by side, in light of the
considerable – and surprising – similarity in their ideas.
The pivot of their outlook is the antithetical-critical connec-
tion between the individual, faith and ethics, on the one hand, and
between political nationalism, idolatry and wars, on the other.
We shall first set out the principles of their religious thought,
which are concerned with the individual, with religious faith, and
with ethics, and contrast them with what they call idolatry, that is,
total ideologies that assimilate the individual. The prime example of
such an ideology is political nationalism when it becomes total.
The second stage will be an analysis of their criticism of po-
litical Zionism as a natural outcome of total political nationalism,
in particular the ethos of political Zionism that revolves around
physical force. Finally, we shall examine the principles that guided
their vision of the Zionist enterprise and the role R. Amiel assigned
religious Zionism in that context.

Religion and the Individual

Nathan Rotenstreich has written that one of the elements responsible
for the religious crisis in the modern era is the perceived antithesis
between humanity’s sovereign ability to know and “conquer” the
world and nature, on the one hand, and religion, according to which
man is dependent on the deity, on the other.123 I believe that R.
Tamares’ thought may be seen as a radical philosophical attempt to
tackle this issue. Like other modern thinkers, R. Tamares consistently
adheres to an ethical-anthropocentric approach, both didactically
and philosophically speaking. In other words, the point of departure
in his analyses is humanity, not God: his interest lies in the human
being in relation to the “other,” to God, and to the world. The element
defining his religious outlook is the individual. The essence of reli-
gion lies in the human being’s level of self-awareness; similarly, the
history of the evolution of religion is the history of humanity’s self-
awareness. This self-awareness began when humanity emerged from
its wild state and discovered itself as an existing entity. The content

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of religion reflects humanity’s general outlook vis-à-vis itself and its

position in the real world. The foundation of R. Tamares’ thought is
the relationship between the cognitive and the connate; the human
being’s self-recognition entails moral behavior. R. Tamares’ outlook
essentially expresses a humanistic-individualistic position: “The
foundation of the universe is the individual human being.”124
The opposite of this outlook is idolatry – that is to say, not only
the ancient pagan beliefs, but a whole world outlook. In this sense
R. Tamares was following Maimonides, who also shifted the focus
of the concept of idolatry from religion to erroneous thought.125
Unlike Maimonides, however, he does not identify idolatry as in-
tellectual error, but as any consciousness and ideology that fails to
give precedence to the position of humanity, of the individual as an
autonomous being. That is to say, any ideology or world view that
rejects the priority of the human being as a value and subjugates it
to another, supposedly more important, idea or concept is idolatrous.
In R. Tamares’ words, idolatry is “the eradication and humiliation
of man, enslaving him to the forces of darkness and to the demons
that rule the world as envisaged by idolatry.” Education, in contrast,
is “elevation of man’s value, enthroning the human intellect over the
world and subjugating all natural forces to him.”126 In essence, there
is “a tendency imprinted upon man’s soul to yearn for some ideal.”
Man may strive to realize the ideal by cultivating his own unique
position, believing in himself, and realizing his ethical side; alter-
natively, he may embrace some collectivist ideology that commits
the sin of idolatry, that is, he may be drawn into the totality of the
collective.127 The Torah, he writes, is a constitution that cultivates
and develops a collective which takes pride in its individuals, who
possess a religious-moral personality; according to the Torah-Jewish
perception, freedom – freeing of the individual – is the heart of the
matter and society is secondary.
Like R. Reines and R. Abraham Kook, R. Tamares bases his
thought on the dichotomy between the idolatrous outlook common
to many national cultures, on the one hand, and the religious mind-
set transmitted by the Jewish people. The Jewish people’s mission is a
commitment, first and foremost, to promote the idea of the human

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being’s precedence and of humanity’s spiritual and ethical improve-

ment. The Jewish people must embody, through its life, constant
protest against the use of force to oppress and kill human beings, as
implied by the idolatrous point of view:

Judaism, throughout its long history, is charged with a single

mission: to lift up the spirit of the human race through the im-
age of the Jewish people, which the Supreme Wisdom elected
to preach its message to the world.”128
Because of this goal…Judaism continually preaches two
things that are the foundations of the dominion of the spirit;…
a) the moral feeling, that is, to do what is good and right, justice
and law; b) the religious feeling, that is, to express the longings
of man’s soul for the “infinite” through various expressions, to
be determined by “faith” for that purpose.

Political-nationalist ideology, by contrast, is the embodiment of

idolatry. On an ideological plane, it prescribes such supreme ideals
as “homeland,” “state,” “nation,” transcending the precedence of the
individual as a value; in practical terms, it promotes a culture of wars
and international confrontation. Like the idolatrous civilizations of
antiquity, the ideology of political nationalism does not direct hu-
man desires, through ideals, to the human soul, in order to deepen
self-awareness and develop moral sensitivity; instead, it perpetuates
personal existential vacuity, it “attracts” the human being to suppos-
edly sublime ideas and values, to the extent that the uniqueness of
the human being as an individual is dissipated.129
According to R. Tamares, the modern phenomenon of na-
tionalism was a disaster for humanity, for it interrupted the human
progress that had begun with the Enlightenment.130 Repudiation of
personal liberty illustrates, more than anything else, the sweeping
totality of the nationalist ideology. This totality has ethical impli-
cations, embodied in a culture that advocates war and practically
treats it as a cult, expressive of the new idolatry. As far as the ethical
implications are concerned, the emergence of nationalism is a “sick-
ness,”131 since the core of its outlook is denial of the worth of the

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individual. Wars, too, are for the most part a product of the militant
nature of nationalist ideology: “But now, the idol that is called ‘The
Homeland’ and its cult that is called ‘War,’ in which evil plays a
greater part than stupidity, have not abandoned even modern man,
but have left him in his place.”132 The mission of the Jewish people,
in our time more than ever, is to voice a perpetual moral protest
against the idolatrous conceptions that bring about so many wars
and so much bloodshed:

We, the nation that has such an ancient tradition of going

against all the nations, that for thousands of years has refused
to kneel or bow down to the idol of the nations – we now have
a sublime task, namely: to rise up against the idol of war that
has so grown and flourished in recent generations and has
become the senior of all idols…. [E]verything that has been
created in our world should be free of the poison of the pri-
meval serpent.133

We may well ask how such a radical viewpoint, based on the spiri-
tual world of the individual, can be conveyed by a whole nation.
R. Tamares had a unique historiosophical perception of the Jewish
people, based on the idea of gradual improvement and perfection
of religious life to ensure the personal religious experience of the
subject. It should be noted that he considered that waging even op-
tional war, which the Talmud and later halakhic authorities consider
to be permitted in appropriate circumstances and under certain
conditions, as a product of cultural assimilation, tantamount to
acceptance of a political viewpoint inherent to the Gentile nations,
diametrically opposed to the basic objective of the Torah.134 As a
rule, even past manifestations of Jewish statehood, such as Solomon’s
kingdom, did not escape R. Tamares’ barbed tongue.135 Only in the
Second Temple period and later, after the cessation of its political
independence, did the Jewish people achieve ethical and religious
perfection. In R. Tamares’ words: “We have explained that Exile was
useful in converting the official deity that dominated Israel when they
were living a political life into an intimate deity.”136 Nevertheless, one

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should stress that R. Tamares distinguished between the Torah objec-

tive, which seeks to educate a person whose attitude to bloodshed
is one of profound disgust, and pacifist protest movements, which
he regarded as general declarations of intent.137
R. Amiel, like R. Tamares, saw in the rise of modern political
nationalism a re-emergence of ancient idolatry. There were several
reasons for this attitude. First, the two phenomena had a similar
psychological motive: The fear of natural catastrophe that brought
ancient humans to deify nature is very similar to the fear of human
violence that induced human beings to group themselves into “na-
tions.” Second, both phenomena accord absolute priority to a certain
concept or idea that enslaves the individual. R. Amiel, like R. Tama-
res, argues that in political regimes “the entire right of the individual
to exist is only for the collective…. Compared with the collective, the
individual is like mere clay in the potter’s hand.”138 One expression
of the priority of the idea over the individual is the intolerable ease
with which people are sent out to war, to kill and to be killed:

They entirely forget about the private domain, as if it did not

exist, and for that reason they have so many swords and spears,
and for that reason they are busy evening, morning, and noon
with waging war only.139
…to take individuals out, against their will, to the battle-
field, to kill and to be killed in a holy war or an optional war, a
defensive war or an aggressive war, and whoever refuses to do
so is condemned to die.140

Third, the world outlook of political nationalism becomes idolatrous

because of its limited, particularistic, and territorial viewpoint. An-
cient idolatry commonly postulated the existence of the particular
god of a nation, a deity whose mission was confined exclusively to
the territory of the nation living there and who would protect that
nation. The same element, R. Amiel claims, may be identified in
modern political nationalism:

The form of the old idolatry is the new, modern nationalism,

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392 Elie Holzer

for buried deep within it are those idols of the nations, each
nation believing in its particular god, that would save it from
its enemies – who had other gods.141

Here, too, R. Amiel sees a direct link between the theological posi-
tion, on the one hand, and on the other, ethical behavior that is in-
clined to collective egoism and therefore considers the nation to be
the be-all and end-all, so that the use of force against other human
groups is legitimate and even preferable:

Nationalism, with a capital “N,” is based on the materialistic

view of the world, which sees in everything only the triumph
of brute force, and justice belongs to the strongest…. Therefore,
the core of this nationalism relies on material toughness, on
physical might, and on an “iron fist.” This nationalism derives
its nourishment first and foremost not from “God’s Image” that
is in man, but from the corruptive devil that dwells within,
that is, from the hatred harbored toward anyone of a different
race or nationality. Nationalism of this kind derives from the
ancient idolatry in which “every nation had its particular idol,
there was a god of Assyria and a god of Aram.”142

Opposing this nationalist-idolatrous world view is the humanis-

tic Torah of Israel, which is founded on a monotheistic-universal
theological outlook and centers on the priority of the individual as
a supreme value:

Our nationalism derives its nourishment from one God, Who

exists from eternity to eternity, and His house is “called a House
of prayer for all the nations.” …Its most basic foundation and
deepest root is the image of God that is in humanity and the
absolute spirituality that reigns over everything.143

In other words, the monotheistic belief in a single Creator implies

a universalistic perception of the world, a moral obligation toward

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all people, wherever they may be. Only such a religious faith can
guarantee a humanistic conception of the world, since it necessarily
implies a universal view of humanity. That is why, for example, the
Torah was given in the wilderness: “For we have neither the idols of
nature nor the idols of the nation, all of which are artificial things
invented by human beings; but there is the God of the universe, who
exists from eternity to eternity.”
Like R. Tamares, R. Amiel is convinced that such distaste for
the deification of brute force and for bloodshed is a product of pro-
found cultural internalization throughout history; it is important for
the ethical-religious mission of the Jewish people, and it can express
the significance of its religious-moral goal:

If you wish, you can say that the new nationalism as well, as un-
derstood today by the modern nations, is also a kind of idolatry
in a new guise…and the sacrifices that are offered up to idols
we indeed saw in the last war, the world war, their numbers
reach tens of thousands…. We still have to stand guard to fulfill
our mission, which is to reject this idolatry in the world.144

Criticism of Jewish Political Nationalism

The ideas we have outlined up to this point are the basis for R.
Tamares’ position that political Zionism, as taught by Herzl and
Jabotinsky, is tantamount to importing an idolatrous nationalistic
ideology into the Jewish world. In R. Tamares’ view, political Zionism
seeks to replace the defining Torah concept of Judaism:

From the outside, from imitation of the cultures of the children

of Ham and the Edomites, together with all the filth, all the
clamor of tyranny and emptiness devoid of a holy and pure
spirit that imbue their hymns of “nationalism” – from these
have such elements been drawn into our own camp.145

Political Zionism seeks to recreate in the Jewish people an ex-

ternalized perception of political life as the exclusive focus of human

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394 Elie Holzer

identity, to make them internalize a predatory, force-centered ethos

in favor of warfare. The similarity of such ideas with R. Amiel’s views
in the 1930s is self-evident:

All in all, Zionism has brought about a kind of Copernican

revolution in the world of Judaism, that is to say, if in the past
God and the Torah were central to all thoughts of Judaism, and
we ourselves, the people of Israel, and all the more so the Land
of Israel, danced around that center – Zionism has reversed the
situation: The Land, the Land of Israel, has become the center
of all centers, and on the other hand even the Torah and God,
as it were, have been demoted to the periphery.146

In R. Amiel’s view, adoption of a nationalist political ideology

by the Jewish nation “derives from the origins of nationalism in the
Gentile spirit, for which Bismarck laid the foundation-stone and
Hitler celebrated the dedication of its house – a nationalism that is
wholly idolatry. How could this resemble the Jewish religion, which
is wholly sanctity and wholly purity?”147
The emergence of nationalism is not an expression of “renais-
sance of the holy,” as believed by the proponents of the harmonistic
view; rather it expresses the internalization of an idolatrous, power-
centered, philosophy. So we see that, like R. Tamares, R. Amiel’s
principal criticism was aimed at the adoption of a philosophy whose
offense was its force-based rather than moral ethos. The first signs to
that effect may be discerned, for example, in a rhetoric that reflects
a world view founded on a negative dimension:

The nationalism of secular Zionism derives its vitality from

hatred, the hatred of the Gentiles for the Jews, and it is no
accident that it points to all the actions of the anti-Semites as
proof of its validity; whereas our nationalism derives its vitality,
on the contrary, from love, the love of Israel for God and for
all those born in the image of God.

According to R. Amiel, only religious nationalism (“our nation-

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alism”), which derives from a monotheistic-humanistic perception,

can guarantee that secular political nationalism will not degenerate
into ultra-nationalism. This is the strength inherent in the Torah,

Was not all Judaism’s war against idolatry directed primarily

against disdain for “the special moral sense pervading our
hearts, which was seen as God’s voice within man, that is, the
image of God that is in man”?148

Strikingly, neither R. Tamares nor R. Amiel focuses on the

realistic, political goals of political Zionism. In this respect, their
approach is radically different from that of R. Reines. Moreover, in
contrast to R. Reines and, to some degree, R. Abraham Kook, they
make no attempt to analyze the geopolitical features of the Middle
East149 in order to determine the relationship between the ideology
of political nationalism, the use of force, and moral decline. Their
interest lies in uncovering the world view inherent in the nationalist
ideology; they hold that it embodies an ethos, ideas, and values dia-
metrically opposed to the religious-humanistic ethos of the Torah.150
Their criticism is penetrating and biting: nationalism has become
a defining value, while Torah or religion has become a merely tol-
erated option within the political-national identity. A distinction
should be made, they argue, between two definitions of nationality,
on the basis of which the nature of the Jewish national awakening
must be judged. The first definition derives from the unique cultural
content of Judaism and its values, whereas the second seeks to base
the definition on a particular race.151 The nationality of the Jewish
people is defined through the very fact that it is alive and cultivates
the Torah and Torah values: “[Nationality] is founded on spiritual
distinction, with the purpose of combining actions and concepts.”
Unlike the perception of “nation” as a biological given or a primary
fact, R. Tamares embraces the concept of “spiritual nation,” which is
defined almost exclusively by the spiritual values according to which
a human group shapes its life.
What R. Abraham Kook considered a harbinger of compre-

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396 Elie Holzer

hensive spiritual and national revival, R. Tamares saw as an illusion,

leading inevitably to moral corruption. In his thought, the concept
of “Torah” denotes first and foremost a set of ideas and values, not
merely observance of the precepts that govern the relations between
God and man. Thus R. Tamares is able to consider the proponents
of humanistic liberalism as partners in the religious-ethical mission
of the Jewish people:

[The Torah] knows only the individual man of the Creator, who
was created ex nihilo in His very image, the image of God, to
live and to exist, to rule nature, but not to rule his fellow man
and conquer him. This is also the culture of the first liberals,
disciples of the visionaries who, at the beginning of the last
century, looked to the Bible as their guide.152

For R. Tamares, the Torah and liberal humanism, which holds

up the individual as an exclusive ontic entity, are practically identical;
for R. Kook, however, and even more for his disciples, the individual
derives his position from the collective of Israel.
At first sight, there is some similarity between R. Tamares’
critique and that of the haredi opponents of Zionism, whose world
view is also rooted in the “Torah” concept. However, the reason for
R. Tamares’ opposition to political Zionism is utterly different. He
by no means takes a theological position that demands political and
historical passivity until the advent of the Messiah.153 Moreover, his
opposition is based not on the secular way of life, in which there
is no observance of the mitzvot, but on rejection of the nationalist
ideology that leads to moral corruption and to essential conflict with
the religious and ethical aims of the Torah. Witness, for example, his
sharply worded letter to Shlomo Zalman Shragai, in which he tries
to explain the meaning of his objection to political Zionism:

However, I fear that the enslaved preaching of the priests of

Zionism, which constantly declares, “There is no free man other
than one who rules a state and wears a sword,” has already suc-
ceeded in confusing the thoughts of our young people entirely,

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to obliterate from their hearts the motto, “There is no free man

other than one who occupies himself with the Torah,” and to
invest them with a frenetic spirit according to which they can
no longer perceive spiritual life without the “blue and white”
flag, and without it they are considered as spiritually dead.154

In order to differentiate his stand from the critique of the ultra-Or-

thodox camp, he adds:

Nevertheless, I have not come here to accuse [the secular

Zionists] of “religious violations,” like the complaint that is
current today in haredi circles155…First, I am no partner to the
“heavenly Cossacks”…that they have taken upon themselves
to build a “state” for me, to award me with a “homeland,”156
with “camp battalions,” “divisions,”…and all the rest of those
excellent things upon which the “goyim,” those lovely grand-
children of Esau, pride themselves…. It is not the fact that the
Zionists are undermining Torah Judaism, threatening to burn
its spiritual treasures (something that is entirely foreign to me),
that angers me, but that they are striving to give me another
Judaism, a Judaism of “Homeland.” It is not, for example, that
they slaughter swine like the goyim and eat them on the Day
of Atonement that enrages me, but that they wish to favor us
with the abominable idol, the desired goal of the slaughterers of
swine, with the idol of the “Homeland” with all the contaminat-
ing things that appertain to the worship of that idol.157

As we have pointed out, he was criticizing political Zionism

for its adoption of political nationalism and the identity thereby
established, with all the moral implications of such ideologies.

Criticism of the Mizrahi

Even the Mizrahi movement, which aimed to create a synthesis of
nationalism and the Torah, represented for both R. Tamares and
R. Amiel a problematic, dangerous attempt to befog the ongoing
revolution of ideas and values. R. Tamares was voicing his criticism

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398 Elie Holzer

as a bystander; R. Amiel, however, was speaking from the heart of

the establishment, in the context of the conferences of the Mizrahi
movement in the 1930s. Thus, R. Tamares writes in 1905:

You Mizrahyites have chosen for yourselves a new God for

Israel and set up the idol of “nationalism” to lead the life of
the Congregation of Israel. Whereas hitherto the Matron of
Israel was the Torah, and after it the Hebrew nation was called
“people of the Torah,” “people of the God of Israel,”…the nation
has now been renamed for “nationalism,” that is, the founda-
tion of the Israelite nation is “nationalism,” just as there is a
nation of those known as “Frenchmen.”… It follows that the
idol of “nationalism,” that poisoning idol invented by the worst
nations of the world, is today the God of Israel, while the “Torah”
is tolerated [by nationalism] with patience. Lord of Abraham!
How terrible and strange is this situation!

Indeed, based on the accumulated experience of modern his-

tory since the emergence of the ideology of political nationalism, R.
Tamares believes that the philosophy of political Zionism will sooner
or later give birth to a cult of military force and war:

So we must know that the attempt to introduce little Jacob to

the market of nationalist politics is like preparing Israel for war
and teaching the sons of Judah the bow. For war is at any rate
implicit in political machinations, or war in the literal sense,
blood and fire, shooting real bullets – if there were a possibility
that foreign thoughts would enter our mind, to obtain a terri-
tory for ourselves by brute force.158

R. Amiel, too, in the 1930s and in an entirely different historical and

political context, criticizes the prevalent ideology of the Mizrahi
movement. Briefly, one might say that R. Amiel believed that the
Mizrahi had the task of standing guard, of preventing the transfor-
mation of secular political nationalism into ultra-nationalism. This
task required ideological alertness, a clear distinction between these

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 399

movements, and critical activity. First and foremost, therefore, R.

Amiel attacked attempts to synthesize the concepts of “nationalism”
and “religion:”

We are deceiving ourselves if we think that we have already

achieved real peace between the Torah and Zionism, between
religion and nationalism, for in truth we have hereby achieved
only a state of duality, in which each ideology derives its vital-
ity from a different source, and if we do not sense and feel the
mutual contradiction, that is only because as the days go by,
one of them gradually contracts and retreats more and more
into a corner, until it will not be sensed at all. And that “one”
is of course the Torah and religion.159

In other words, the problem lies in the failure to recognize the

difference between two normative sets of values. This blurring of
differences in the religious Zionist camp has launched a process in
which nationalism is supplanting the normative precepts of religion.
R. Amiel’s vision of a situation in which the “Torah” concept would
determine one’s world view is very typical of the antithetical-critical
position. Like R. Tamares, he believes that the significance assigned
to nationalism and the independent political framework would be
determined entirely by the “Torah” concept:

The Mizrahi is not a party based on two foundations, Zionism

and Orthodoxy, or religiosity and nationalism, for these terms
too came from Babylon and not from the Land of Israel….
Whoever says that he has in Judaism these two things [= re-
ligion and nationalism] together, understanding thereby two
separate things – in the end he has nothing together.160

The Mizrahi’s offense, at the level of principles, was not only in

its faulty definition of its terms, but also in the principles governing
education in the religious-Zionist camp. Here, too, instead of more
sharply delineating problems and differences, the religious Zionists
tend to create confusing syntheses:

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400 Elie Holzer

Our education is based on a superficial program, on the small-

ness of our thought: “The Land of Israel for the nation of Israel
according to the Torah of Israel,” as if the only difference be-
tween us and the secular Zionists were those last three words,
whereas in the first two things, “the Land of Israel for the nation
of Israel,” we have no argument at all, as if there is no differ-
ence between our understanding and theirs in the meaning of
“Land of Israel” and “nation of Israel,” and as if we too agree,
like them, to understanding the Land of Israel and the nation
of Israel in a completely secular sense.161

On what basis did R. Tamares decide, unhesitatingly, that

the Jewish political-nationalist ideology implied a power-centered,
militaristic, anti-ethical ethos? Several reasons and phenomena seem
to have shaped his conviction that Zionism would not lead to the
spiritual and ethical revival of Judaism that he had envisaged, but
to imitations of the ultra-nationalist culture of certain European na-
tions. For example, he complains that representatives of the Zionist
movement expressed admiration for the First World War and for
political exploitation, and advocated the use of force.162 Certain
Zionists praised the war for the new spirit it had created, with such
expressions as “these are great days,”163 refusing to recognize that
tens of thousands of people had lost their lives in the war.164
He was convinced that this power-centered ethos had also
taken over culture and education.165 One sign to that effect was the
type of hero that was promoted among Zionists. Around Trumpel-
dor, for example, there was a veritable cult of personality. According
to R. Tamares, Trumpeldor was the embodiment of brute force and
ultra-nationalism, an obvious product of pagan culture.166
At the same time, our picture will not be complete without
mentioning R. Tamares’ explicit advocacy of self-defense as an
ethical and religious duty. He did not discuss this subject frequently,
preferring mostly to aim his criticism at the cult of physical force.
Nevertheless, it should not be thought that he was in favor of extreme
pacifism, excluding the right of self-defense:

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 401

Even when we proceed to seek improvement of our unstable

situation, we seek only a remedy for our oppression, not for
our humility, wishing to straighten our backs but not to raise
our pride; in simple words, our desire or ambition is not to
be subjugated, a desire for equality and enjoyment of “human”
rights, but not to subjugate others, as implied by “political”

R. Tamares’ perception of the ideal political structure for the

Jewish people in the Land of Israel revolved around the idea of a
spiritual center, à la Ahad Ha-Am.168 The emphasis would then be
placed on renewal of Judaism, on spiritual and ethical renaissance
rather than on the political dimension. It was clear to him that not
all Jews in the world would wish to live in such a frame, so that the
goal of the spiritual center in the Land of Israel would be to exert
influence “throughout the Jewish Diaspora, for the sake of the Torah
that would issue from Zion and water the flocks of the Children of
Israel wherever they landed in the Diaspora.” This would, he believed,
include an independent political entity that would guarantee the
physical welfare of the nation of the Torah, but in which the state
would be seen at most as a means toward an end.169
As to R. Amiel, despite his vehement objections to the use of
force, he was not in favor of a pacifistic position. One might say that
ideas implicit in R. Tamares’ writings received explicit expression
in R. Amiel’s thought, which makes a sharp distinction between
the use of force for political or ideological purposes and its use in
self-defense. The sole justification for the use of arms, he writes,
is in unambiguous circumstances requiring self-defense – and
even then weapons should be used most reluctantly, for lack of

For the Israelite nation harbors the utmost hate for war, even
defensive war, and if it at times has no choice but to apply the
undisputed Halakhah as ruled, that “if a person comes to kill
you, kill him first,” he does so with sorrow and regret, for they

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402 Elie Holzer

are the descendants of Jacob, who was more fearful of killing

than of being killed.170

Unlike R. Tamares, R. Amiel also found himself reacting to a

practical reality that had become violent. In response to attacks on
the Jewish population, various avenging actions were undertaken
against Arab civilians. In 1938 there were several terror attacks
against the Arab population; some innocent Arabs were killed and
the perpetrators were not found. Rumors that Jews had been re-
sponsible aroused passionate arguments in the Jewish population in
general, and among religious Jews in particular. R. Amiel was one of
the important figures who reacted, participating in the public debate
inter alia in articles published in the press. He focused mainly on
two issues: 1) Indiscriminate revenge was forbidden; 2) there could
be absolutely no distinction between murder committed for the sake
of revenge and murder committed for utilitarian purposes. To his
mind, both these phenomena, acts of vengeance aimed at innocent
people and condemnation of murders for merely utilitarian reasons,
were expressions of the same underlying ideas, which he deplored.
It was absolutely forbidden to kill innocent people, even when
Jews were victims of terrorist attacks, “even in the case of the murder
of murderers, if there is the slightest doubt, even one chance out of
a thousand that there is one person among these murderers who
has not committed murder.” This was not a question of political or
personal restraint, but a fully ethical question involving personal
courage: “Self-restraint, for which one indeed requires special cour-
age, unsurpassed heroism.”
As stated, there were some who deplored the murder of inno-
cents even when committed for purely utilitarian reasons; even worse:
there were some who expressed understanding, if not agreement, for
murder motivated by ideological reasons, for the common good:

After all, we are not talking here about material benefit, or

about the benefit of individuals, but about the benefit of the
collective, of the entire nation…. “Thou shalt not kill” is one of

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the Ten Commandments, but the life and redemption of Israel

is, after all, the whole Torah.

In other words: The justification of people who advocated

killing for ideological motives was the benefit of the people, which
was a supreme value, dominating any other ethical consideration.
In such an argument the nation becomes a supreme, absolute value.
For R. Amiel, such arguments exemplified the danger inherent in
the nationalist-political ideology. In such times of indiscriminate
terror and lukewarm responses, R. Amiel applied the ideological
distinctions of his own teachings to deplore the phenomenon:

Such morals are the morals not of Judaism, but of the Gentile
nations. Each nation, each people, says that its existence is the
supreme value, and that “Thou shalt not kill” is merely one
of the Ten Commandments. And wherever it believes that by
abandoning “Thou shalt not kill” it will gain something for
its own common good, it harbors no doubts and violates the
commandment. These, indeed, are the morals of the national-
ism of Bismarck and Hitler, morals based on the rule that the
ends justifies the means, and that for the good of their collec-
tive it is permitted to use any deplorable means. But the ethics
of Judaism teaches us the very opposite: It is not the end that
justifies the means, but the shameful means that violate even
the sacred end.

R. Amiel is clearly assuming that an ethical approach is the

result of a basic ideological outlook: If the concept of “nation” is
absolute and supreme, any action that serves the nation will sup-
press one’s moral obligation toward the other. On the other hand,
the “ethics of Judaism,” a defining, axiomatic concept, dictates above
all an ethical attitude to issues on the public agenda. He expressed
his view in particularly sharp terms when questioned as to what he
would say if it turned out that the killers of innocent Arabs were
indeed Jews:

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404 Elie Holzer

If there are such people, the guilty persons are those who, for
more than fifty years, have based Judaism entirely on “Let us,
the House of Israel, be like all the nations,” who have falsified
not only our Torah but all our history; for all our history is en-
tirely contrary to “nationalism” of this kind. If our nationalism
is the nationalism of the Gentiles, then our ethics is also not
the “ethics of Judaism” but “ethics of the Gentiles.”

According to R. Amiel, the establishment of the state was condi-

tional on insistence on our ethical-religious uniqueness: “We cannot
possibly build our national home by the sword that has been wielded
upon innocent people; such a home is violated from the start.”171
In sum, internalization among religious-Zionist circles of the
political activism taught by Zionism, and later experience of a vio-
lent reality, produced different, sometimes even widely divergent,
positions on the question of the ethical-religious dimension of the
Zionist enterprise from a Zionist and religious standpoint.
All one can say at this point is, that the story is hardly over.

I wish to thank Mr. David Louvish for translating this article from the Hebrew.
1. Joseph Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (Hebrew; Tel Aviv, 1956), 2:215–232.
2. Aviezer Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism, trans.
Michael Swirsky & Jonathan Chipman (Chicago, 1996), 2–3; Eliezer Schweid,
Jewish Thought in the 20th Century: An Introduction (Atlanta, ga, 1992), 35–36. On
the normative imperatives of nationalist ideologies, including the use of force, see
Yaakov Talmon, “Unity of the Nation and Revolutionary Brotherhood” (Hebrew),
in idem, Unity and Uniqueness (Hebrew; Tel Aviv, 1965).
3. This article is a condensed version of a more comprehensive study: Elie Holzer,
“Nationalism and Morality: Conceptions on the Use of Force within Ideological
Streams of Religious Zionists” (Hebrew), Ph.D. dissertation, Hebrew University
(Jerusalem, 1998).
4. R. Isaac Jacob Reines, Or Hadash al Tziyyon (Vilna, 1902), 116.
5. See, e.g., Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism, 86 ff.
6. R. Avraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, Orot ha-Kodesh (Jerusalem, 1985), 3:69.
7. R. Avraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook Orot (Jerusalem, 1963), 102–104.
8. R. Avraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, Hazon ha-Geulah (Jerusalem, 1941), 290 [my
italics]. These ideas should be treated with some caution, since Hazon ha-Geulah
was edited by R. Meir Bar-Ilan after R. Kook’s death, and the source of the various

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War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition 405

parts of this book in the writings of R. Kook is not clear. See Orot, 55; cf. ibid., 140,
139, 151, 158.
9. See Eliezer Schweid, A History of Jewish Thought in Modern Times (Hebrew;
Jerusalem, 1977), 373–385.
10. R. Avraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, Olat Ra’ayah (Jerusalem, 1985), 1:233.
11. As to Israel’s wars in the time of the Bible, see Iggerot ha-Ra’ayah (Jerusalem, 1962),
1:100; Orot, 14, #4.
12. R. Avraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, “Nehamat Yisrael,” Ma’amarei ha-Ra’ayah
(Jerusalem, 1988), vols. 1–2, 281.
13. Ketubot 111a. See Elie Holzer, “The Evolving Meaning of the Three Oaths within
Religious Zionism” (Hebrew), Da’at 47 (Summer 2001): 129–145.
14. He plays on the Hebrew words Zamir/Zemir (pruning or song) based on two bibli-
cal verses: Song of Songs 2:12 and Isaiah 25:5.
15. Orot, 13, 15, 104.
16. R. Avraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, Iggerot ha-Ra’ayah, 2:317.
17. Orot, 14.
18. Ibid., 13, #1.
19. Tamar Ross, “Rav Kook’s Conception of God” (Hebrew), Da’at 9 (1982):68–69;
Binyamin Ish Shalom, R. Abraham Isaac Kook – between Rationalism and Mysticism
(Hebrew; Tel Aviv, 1990), 21 ff., 106; Yaakov Katz, “Orthodoxy in Historical
Perspective” (Hebrew), Kivvunim 33 (1987): 95.
20. Eliezer Schweid, The Idea of Judaism as a Culture (Hebrew; Tel Aviv, 1995),
21. Isaiah Berlin, “Historical Inevitability,” in idem, Four Essays on Liberty (London,
New York, etc., 1969), 53.
22. Ibid., 57.
23. Orot, 27.
24. R. Avraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, Orot ha-Kodesh, 2:453–456.
25. R. Avraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, Ma’amarei ha-Ra’ayah, vols. 1–2 (Jerusalem,
1988), 417.
26. The real nation of Israel is linked with Knesset Yisrael (the collectivity of Israel) and
the kabbalistic sefirah of malkhut (Kingship); see Iggerot ha-Ra’ayah, 3:117.
27. R. Avraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, Iggerot ha-Ra’ayah, 2:186.
28. Orot, 63.
29. See, e.g., R. Avraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, Sefer Eder ha-Yakar (Jerusalem, 1906),
30. Hazon ha-Geulah, 3 [emphasis in the original].
31. Iggerot ha-Ra’ayah, 2:186 (written in 1913).
32. For the theory of opposites in this context, see Yehudah Gellman, “Zion and
Jerusalem: The Jewish State according to R. Abraham Isaac Kook” (Hebrew), Iyunim
Bitkumat Israel 4 (1994):505–514.
33. “There can be no more manifest [sign of] redemption than this…. O mountains of
Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit” (Sanhedrin 98a).

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406 Elie Holzer

34. Iggerot ha-Ra’ayah, 1:244.

35. R. Avraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, “Mi-Ma’amakkei ha-Kodesh,” Ha-Hed (1931).
36. Iggerot ha-Ra’ayah, 1:56–57; “Kodesh va-hol be-Tehiyyat Yisrael,” Ha-Hed (1931);
R. Avraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, Otzerot ha-Ra’ayah, 888; Letter to R. Zerihan,
Peri ha-Aretz [a journal for matters of Halakhah and faith] (1986):25.
37. R. Avraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, Arfillei Tohar (Jerusalem, 1983), 104.
38. Orot, 63.
39. In this respect, I disagree to some extent with the view that the transition from R.
Kook’s thought to that of his heirs was a transition from a doctrine of vision versus
society as a critical pattern, to the idea of a “protective enclosure,” as argued by
Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism, 143; there are ad-
ditional expressions of the “protective” motive in R. Kook’s writings; see, e.g., Orot,
65, 20–21; Hazon ha-Geulah, 103.
40. The ideas represented by those generally known as R. Tzvi Yehudah’s “disciples” –
particularly those who consider themselves his disciples though not seen as such by
their peers – cover a fairly wide spectrum. This account does not claim to discuss
all of them, but only those whose thought was shaped to some degree or another by
the harmonistic-dialectical doctrines of R. Kook senior and who applied redemp-
tive exegesis to the new violent realities.
41. See Uriel Tal, “Foundations of a Political Messianic Trend in Israel” (Hebrew), in
Myth and Reason in Contemporary Jewry (Hebrew; Tel Aviv, 1987), 115; Eliezer
Don-Yehiya, “The Book and the Sword: The Nationalist Yeshivot and Political
Radicalism in Israel,” in Martin E. Marty & Scott Appleby (eds.), Accounting for
Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements (Chicago, 1994), 273.
42. R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, “El mishmar ha-Am ha-Yisraeli,” Li-Netivot Yisrael
(Jerusalem, 1989), 106, 108.
43. R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, “Va-Hare’otem ve-Nosha’tem,” ibid., 153 (undated article).
44. R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, “Le-Mitzvat ha-Aretz,” ibid., 119.
45. Jacob L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (London, 1955),
46. R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, “Orot ha-Geulah u-Netivoteha,” in H.A. Schwartz (ed.),
Mi-tokh ha-Torah ha-Go’elet 4 (Jerusalem, 1991), 55. The comprehensive view
may be expressed even in extreme cases, as for example in incidents in the War
of Independence in which Jews were mistakenly killed by other Jews; see “Mi-
Ma’amakkim,” Li-Netivot Yisrael, 125.
47. R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, “Shelihuto shel ha-Ra’ayah,” in Jacob Bramson (ed.), Ba-
Ma’arakhah ha-Tzibburit (Jerusalem, 1986), 84.
48. R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, Mi-tokh ha-Torah ha-Go’elet, 54.
49. Editorial, “Malkhut u-Memshalah,” Yesha Yemino, no. 35, ed. Yehudah Veitzen &
Jacob Shahor (Pesagot, 1993), 4.
50. Ibid., 77. On the concept of national honor in nationalist ideologies see W.R.
Garret, “Religion and the Legitimation of Violence,” in J.K. Hadden & A. Shupe
eds., Prophetic Religions and Politics (New York, 1986), 1:105.
51. See, e.g., Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah, chap. 5.

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52. Eretz ha-Tzevi: Rabbenu ba-Ma’arakhah al Shelemut ha-Aretz (Bet El, 1995), 73.
53. R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, Ba-Ma’arakhah ha-Tzibburit, 120, 86.
54. R. Shlomo Aviner, “Ha-Re’alizm ha-Meshihi,” Artzi 3 (1983): 63; He adds there in a
note: “The manifest redemption of the settlement of our land was perceived as an
unmistakable sign of our redemption by the great scholars of Israel and decisors
of Halakhah, the Gaon of Vilna…our Master the Rav, etc.”
55. R. Dov Leor, “Ger Toshav ve-Hagdarato be-Dorenu,” Tzefiyyah 2 (1985): 80; S. Aviner,
Itturei Kohanim 57 (Jerusalem, 1990), 7.
56. “Malkhut u-Memshalah” (above, n. 49), 4.
57. Eretz ha-Tzvi, 4. See further: “Every Jew who returns to the Land brings back to Zion
part of the Shekhinah that stayed with the people in Exile. Every Jew who comes
to the Land of Israel, every tree planted in the soil of Israel, every rifle added to
the army of Israel – these are one further really spiritual stage, another step in the
Redemption, like the glorification and increase of the Torah in the proliferation of
yeshivot;” Ma’ariv (Eve of Passover, 1962); quoted in R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, “Li-hyot
[to be] Yehudi Tov – Kodem Kol li-hyot [to live] be-Eretz Yisrael,” in Ha-Medinah
be-Hagut ha-Yehudit: Mekorot u-Ma’amarim, ed. Arieh Strikovsky (Jerusalem,
1982), 212.
58. This approach is known in the scholarly literature as “expansionism”; see Don-
Yehiya, “The Book and the Sword,” 267.
59. Yitzhak Sheilat, “Mi Mefahed mi-Meshiah Tzidkenu,” Artzi 3 (1983): 57–58 (emphasis
in the original).
60. R. J.I. Reines, Or Hadash al Tziyyon (Vilna, 1902), 36.
61. Hanan Porat, “Ha-Pulmus im ha-Rav Amital al Eretz Yisrael,” Nekudah 56 (1982):
62. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim, chap. 11 and Nahmanides in his
Commentary on Maimonides’ Sefer ha-Mitzvot, in the list of Positive Commandments
that Maimonides has forgotten according to Nahmanides, Commandment #4.
63. Eretz ha-Tzvi, 5. This statement dates from 1967; R. Tzvi Yehudah first refers
to Nahmanides as “father of Israel,” in “Ha-Torah ve-ha-Geulah,” Li-Netivot
Yisrael, 90.
64. Ba-Ma’arakhah ha-Tzibburit, 23.
65. R. Yehoshua, Bat Kol 9 (26.2.1980); at the time of writing, R. Hess was the Campus
Rabbi of Bar-Ilan University.
66. Mi-Tokh ha-Torah ha-Go’elet, 31.
67. Quoted by Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism, 130.
68. Shlomo Aviner, “Yerushat ha-Aretz ve-ha-Ba’ayah ha-Musarit,” Artzi 2 (Iyyar–Sivan
1982): 111.
69. Idem, “Ha-Re’alizm ha-Meshihi,” Arzi 3 (1983): 64.
70. R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, “Li-hyot [to be] Yehudi Tov – Kodem Kol li-hyot [to live]
be-Eretz Yisrael,” Ba-Ma’arakhah ha-Tzibburit, 24.
71. See Elie Holzer, “The Evolving Meaning of the Three Oaths within Religious

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72. For the concept of Sinnbild, see Paul Mendes-Flohr, “Buber between Nationalism
and Mysticism” (Hebrew), Iyyun 29 (1990): 75.
73. Eretz ha-Tzvi, 13.
74. R. Eliezer Waldman, “Li-khbosh et ha-Har,” Nekudah 20 (1980): 21.
75. R. Eliyahu Avihayil, “Ha-Hashgahah ha-Elokit Doheket Banu,” Tzefiyyah 2 (Spring
1985): 82. On this assumption, the terrorists are actually God’s emissaries, a divine
tool in the ongoing process of redemption.
76. R. Shlomo Aviner, “Le-Romem et ha-Ruah,” Nekudah 48 (1982): 4.
77. R. Eliezer Waldman, “Ha-Ma’avak ba-Derekh la-Shalom,” Artzi 3 (1983): 18.
78. R. Tzvi Tau, Le-Emunat Ittenu: Kavvim la-Havanat ha-Tekufah (Jerusalem, 1994),
79. For a biography of R. Reines, see J.L. Fishman (Maimon), Zekhor zot le-Yaakov:
Toledot ha-Rav I.J. Reines (Jerusalem, 1932). For a partial summary of his views
see Joseph Wanefsky, R. Jacob Reines: His Life and Thought (New York, 1970).
80. In contradistinction to the previous section of this paper, we cannot claim here
to be dealing with a self-conscious philosophical “school.” Moreover, the writers
we call “R. Reines’ ideological successors” cannot all be considered thinkers who
developed a comprehensive, systematic ideology.
81. Elie Holzer, “The Use of Military Force in the Religious-Zionist Ideology of R. Jacob
Reines and His Successors,” Studies in Contemporary Jewry 18 (2002): 74–94.
82. Deut. Rabbah 4:2.
83. R. Isaac Jacob Reines, Sha’arei Orah ve-Simhah (Vilna, 1899), 42.
84. Ibid. See also similarly note 44.
85. Aviezer Ravitzky, “Ha-Tzafuy ve-ha-Reshut Netunah: Messianism, Zionism and
the Future of Israel in the Different Religious Outlooks in Israel” (Hebrew), in:
Towards the 21st Century: Targets for Israel, ed. Aluf Hareven (Hebrew; Jerusalem,
1984), 135–198, esp. 178–179. On comparisons between R. Kook and R. Reines see
idem, 146–158; Michael Tzvi Nehorai, “R. Reines and R. Kook – Two Approaches to
Zionism” (Hebrew), in: Yovel Orot: Haguto shel ha-Rav Avraham Yitzhak ha-Kohen
Kook, ed. Benjamin Ish Shalom & Shalom Rosenberg (Jerusalem, 1988), 25–34;
idem, “On the Essence of Religious Zionism” (Hebrew), Bi-Shvilei ha-Tehiyyah 3,
ed. M. Eliav (Ramat-Gan, 1988), 25–38.
86. Gen. Rabbah 42.
87. Sha’arei Orah ve-Simhah, 44.
88. Ehud Luz has argued that R. Reines’ thought is self-contradictory and philo-
sophically obscure: E. Luz, Parallels Meet: Religion and Nationalism in Early Zionist
Movement (1882–1904) (Hebrew; Tel Aviv, 1985), 310.
89. The uniqueness of the Jewish people lies in its Torah. Only through the Torah is
the Jew able to realize himself as an adam, “a person.” See R. Reines’ interpretation
of the Midrash “You are called adam, but the nations of the world are not called
adam,” Sha’arei Orah ve-Simhah, (Vilna, 1899), 30.
90. These ideas are based on a complex theory of Divine Providence; see Eliezer
Schweid, “The Beginnings of a Zionistic-National Theology: The Philosophy

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of R. Isaac Jacob Reines” (Hebrew), in: Studies in Jewish Mysticism, Philosophy

and Ethical Literature (Presented to Isaiah Tishby on his 75th Birthday), (Hebrew;
Jerusalem, 1986), 700–707.
91. Yosef Salmon, “Hibbat Zion’s Struggle for Haredi Support during the 1890s,” in
idem, Religion and Zionism: First Encounters (Jerusalem, 2002), 235–278.
92. R. Reines writes of being undecided for as long as two years as to whether to
cooperate with political Zionism; see Nod Shel Demigod (Vilna, 1904), 16.
93. R. Reines, Or Hadash al Ziyyon, 128.
94. Reading he-hamur for an apparent misprint.
95. That is, without the use of military force; see Holzer, “Nationalism and Morality,”
96. Or Hadash al Tziyyon, 116. R. Reines was critical of those who saw in Zionism a
harbinger of redemption: “If there are any sermonizers or preachers who, while
seeking the welfare of Zion, also speak of Redemption and the advent of the mes-
siah, giving the impression of the corrupt thought of this idea as if encroaching on
the limits of true Redemption – whose fault is that? They are expressing only their
own conceit” (Manifesto by R. Reines, R. Aharon Dov-Baer Ha-Kohen Lapp, R.
Nahum Greenhaus, and R. Pinchas Rozavsky, Ha-melitz 78 [1900]). At the same
time, however, R. Reines sees Zionism as seeking to release the Jewish people from
its passive ethos. See his letter to Herzl, December 9, 1903: “Because thereby [by
agreeing to the Uganda resolution, E.H.] we hope to rescue one sizable part of our
people and restore its physical and spiritual wholeness” (in Moshe Heiman, ed.,
Minutes of the Zionist General Council. The Uganda Controversy, vol. I [Jerusalem,
1970], 180; my italics, I am indebted to Dr. Yaakov Tzur for referring me to this
97. Personally, however, R. Reines abstained in the final vote; Ge’ulah Bat Yehudah,
Ish ha-Me’orot (Jerusalem, 1985), 214.
98. Letter to Theodor Herzl, see note 96.
99. From “Lifnei ha-Kongress,” Ha-Zeman (1905), no. 119.
100. Introduction to Or Hadash al Tziyyon; Eliezer Don Yehiya, “Ideology and Policy
in Religious Zionism–R. Yitzhak Yaakov Reines’ Conception of Zionism and the
Policy of the Mizrahi under His Leadership” (Hebrew), Ha-Tziyyonut 8 (1983):
101. Sha’arei Orah ve-Simhah, 17, 58.
102. R. Isaac Jacob, Sefer ha-Arakhim (New York, 1926), 1:283–285, 132–133.
103. Or Hadash al Ziyyon, 36, 238; see also in general ibid., Sha’ar 7, chap. 3. See Elie
Holzer, “The Evolving Meaning of the Three Oaths within Religious Zionism.”
104. Anita Shapira, Land and Power (Hebrew; Tel Aviv, 1992), 156 ff.
105. Yeshayahu Bernstein, “Ha-Dibbera ha-Shishit,” Ha-Tzofeh (June 19, 1939), 37.
106. Ibid. On the “havlagah” period in general see further H. Genizi ed., Religion and
Resistance in Mandatory Palestine (Hebrew; Tel Aviv, n.d. [1995]); N. Gal-Or, The
Jewish Underground: Our Terrorism (Hebrew; Merhaviah, 1990), 23–30.
107. R. Isaac Herzog, “Nahpesah Derakhenu,” in: Neged ha-Teror. Ma’amarim, Reshimot,

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Ne’ummim ve-Gilluyei Da’at, ed. Binyamin & Yaakov Peterseil (Ramat-Gan &
Jerusalem, 1939), 42; see also his colleague, R. Ben-Zion Hai Uziel, the Sephardic
Chief Rabbi in the 1930s, in his article, “Lo Yishafekh dam be-Kerev Artzekha,” ibid.,
108. As stated by R. Uziel, quoted in Jacob Shavit ed., “Self-Restraint” or “Reaction”: The
Debate in the Jewish Community 1936–1939 (Hebrew; Ramat-Gan, 1983), 149.
109. Ha’aretz (November 19, 1937). The reason for “havlagah” was given as “Her ways
are pleasant ways, and all her paths, peaceful” (Prov. 3:17).
110. R. Moshe Ostrovsky, “Kiddush Hashem,” Ha-Tzofeh (July 18, 1939) (quoted by
Don-Yehiya, “Religion and Political Terror: Orthodox Jews and Retaliation during
the 1936–1939 ‘Arab Revolt’’ ” [Hebrew], Ha-Tziyyonut 17 [1993]:172–173).
111. Shmuel Dothan, The Partition of Eretz-Israel in the Mandatory Period (Hebrew;
Jerusalem, 1980), 174; see also Hilda Schatzberger, Resistance and Tradition in
Mandatory Palestine (Hebrew; Ramat-Gan, 1985), 95, who argues that early signs of
halakhic debate over the question of religiously obligated war (milhemet mitzvah)
first appeared in the 1930s. However, she is dubious as to the significance of these
early stages.
112. “Kol koreh shel ha-Rabanim ha-Rashiyim,” 15 Shevat 5707 [= February 5, 1947]
(quoted by Hilda Schatzberger, Resistance and Tradition, 104).
113. Quoted by Yosi Melman, “Ha-Sheker ha-Muskam shel Qibya,” Ha’aretz (April 18,
1997), 6b.
114. Ephraim Elimelekh Urbach, “Le-Shorsham shel Devarim” (Movement for Torah
Judaism, 1966), 10.
115. Aviezer Ravitzky, “Ha-Geulah ve-ha-Berit,” Netivoteha Shalom (Jerusalem, 1987),
21; R. Yehudah Amital, the founder of the movement, has criticized the concept
of athalta de-geulah (beginnings of Redemption), on the grounds that “the only
certain thing is the end of the process; the duration of the process, whether it
will be long or short, depends on our actions and our behavior” (R. Y. Amital,
“Hitmodedut ve-Etgar ba-metzi’ut ha-Hadashah,” Meimad [1994], 7).
116. R. Y. Amital, “Meser Politi o Meser Hinnukhi,” Alon Shevut (1983): 37, 49; Netivot
Shalom has published several meta-halakhic sources expressing a primary ethical
position similar to that of many personalities and Rabbis in the 1930s.
117. R. Y. Amital, “Be-Milkud ha-Shelemut,” Nekudah 26 (1982): 10.
118. Another expression of the realistic principle has been represented by Uriel Simon,
who distinguishes between the ideal plane and historical realization, between the
Divine right to the Land of Israel and the obligation to confine that right within
the limits of political and historical reality: U. Simon, “The Biblical Destinies –
Conditional Promises,” Tradition 17/2 (Spring 1978): 88.
119. For a classification of nationalist ideologies see, e.g., Carlton J.H. Hayes, “The
Major Types of Nationalism,” in Louis L. Snyder ed., The Dynamics of Nationalism:
Readings in Its Meaning and Development (Princeton, 1964), 51–52.
120. See for example Avi Sagi ed., Yeshayahu Leibowitz: His World and Philosophy
(Jerusalem, 1995).
121. R. Aaron Samuel Tamares (1839–1931) studied inter alia at the Kovno “Kolel

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Perushim” and the Volozhin Yeshiva. He studied together with Hayyim Nahman
Bialik and was a member of the “Netzah Yisrael” society of adherents of Hibbat
Tziyyon. Invited by Bialik and Rav Tza’ir [Hayyim Tschernowitz] to teach at the
yeshivah in Odessa, he refused to move to the big city, preferring to officiate as
rabbi of the small town of Milejczyce, near Bialystok. He published numerous
books and articles in the Hebrew press and in literary anthologies. For further
biographical details, see Aharon Shmuel Tamares, Pacifism in Light of the Torah, ed.
Ehud Luz (Hebrew; Jerusalem, 1992), editor’s introduction. See also Encyclopedia
of Religious Zionism (Hebrew), ed. Y. Raphael, 5:847–851; Zalman Rejzen, Leksikon
fun der Yidisher Literatur, vol. iv (Vilna, 1929), 897–902.
122. R. Moshe Avigdor Amiel was one of the most prominent rabbinical figures in reli-
gious Zionism. Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv in the 1930s, he became one of the central
figures out Mizrahi conferences. His Zionist activities in the Mizrahi movement
essentially date back many years before, in Eastern Europe and Belgium, his two
homes before immigrating to the Land of Israel in the early 1930s. For a bibliog-
raphy of his writings see Yitzhak Raphael, Kitvei ha-Rav M.A. Amiel (Jerusalem,
1943). For a biography see Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2:846–847.
123. Nathan Rotenstreich, Iyyunim ba-Mahashavah ha-Yehudit ba-Zeman ha-Zeh (Tel
Aviv, 1978), 30.
124. R. Aharon Shmuel Tamares, Sefer ha-Yahadut ve-ha-Herut (Odessa, 1905), 85.
125. See, e.g., Moshe Halberthal & Avishai Margalit, Idolatry (Cambridge, 1992), 42–45;
see R. Aharon Shmuel Tamares, Musar ha-Torah ve-ha-Yahadut (Vilna, 1912), 14,
and cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Avodah Zarah, chap. 1.
126. Musar ha-Torah ve-ha-Yahadut, 76.
127. R. Aharon Shmuel Tamares, Keneset Yisrael u-Milhamot ha-Goyim (Warsaw, 1920),
128. R. Aharon Shmuel Tamares, “Li-she’elot ha-Yahadut,” in He-Atid, ed. S. Horowitz
(Berlin, 1913), 149.
129. See Keneset Yisrael, 16–17.
130. Sefer ha-Yahadut ve-ha-Herut, 82, 85. Specifically, the First World War made it
impossible to speak of – or to believe in – human progress; see R. Aharon Shmuel
Tamares, “Hishtahrerut ha-Mahashavah ha-Ivrit,” Kolot 6–8, ed. E. Steinman
(Warsaw, 1922–1923), 176. War makes a mockery of the culture that views nation
and state as the be-all and end-all; see Keneset Yisrael, 64.
131. R. Aharon Shmuel Tamares, “Hashbatat ha-Milhamot im ha-She’elot ha-Kalkaliyot,”
in: Sheloshah Zivvugim Bilti Hagunim (Pietrkow, 1930), 86.
132. Keneset Yisrael, 16.
133. Kolot 6–8 (1922–1923), 224.
134. Keneset Yisrael, 29 ff. See Sanhedrin 20b; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot
Sanhedrin 5:1; Hilkhot Melakhim 5:2; Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, Pos. Comm. 117. R.
Tamares does not reject the halakhic category of milhemet mitzvah, which he
defines as a defensive war, “aid to Israel in distress;” see Maimonides, Mishneh
Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim 5:1.
135. Keneset Yisrael, 31; he considers even the construction of the Temple as a regres-

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sion from the inward-directed nature of religion. Relying on a Midrash in Shabbat

30a, he concludes that it would have been better to devote attention to spiritual
life by studying Torah than to build the Temple and offer sacrifices; see Keneset
Yisrael, 30; the sacrificial rites, he believes, were merely lip service that the Jews
were obliged to pay King Cyrus.
136. Keneset Yisrael, 41 (my italics) Cf. R. Amiel: “During the First Temple period, when
the Jews lived in the land of Israel, they also knew about the God of Israel, just as
they knew that the Assyrians had the god of Assyria and the Babylonians, the god
of Babylonia, etc.; but only later, when they had left the land and been scattered
to the four corners of the world, did they achieve the correct apprehension of the
God of Israel as the God of the universe, Whose Glory fills the whole world; more
precisely, the God of the universe is their God of Israel” (Ha-Mizrahi 49, 6).
137. Kolot 6–8 (1922−1923), 224.
138. R. M.A. Amiel, Derashot el-Ami (Tel Aviv, 1964), 2:37.
139. Ibid.
140. Ha-Mizrahi (May 14, 1919), 190; the contradiction between nationalism and faith, in
R. Amiel’s view, is that nationalism is based on the egotistical behavior of animals
(R. M.A. Amiel, Ha-Yesodot ha-Ide’ologiyim shel ha-Mizrahi [Warsaw, 1934], 18); R.
Amiel stresses that the Torah begins with Adam, a single person, not with a special
land or nation. This expresses the inherent universalism of the Torah (idem, Am
Segulah, ha-Le’ummiyyut ve-ha-Enoshiyyut be-Hashkafat Olamah shel ha-Yahadut
[Tel Aviv, 1943], 10).
141. Derashot el-Ami, 2:39.
142. Ha-Yesodot ha-Ide’ologiyim, 18–19.
143. Derashot el-Ami, 2:19.
144. R. M.A., Ha-Galut ve-ha-Geulah, Ha-Mizrahi 49 (1920): 6 (my italics).
145. Sefer ha-Yahadut ve-ha-Herut, 90.
146. Ha-Yesodot ha-Ide’ologiyim, 11. Zionism has “turned everything upside-down and
is telling us that not only may the Jews live without Torah, but even that Judaism
can be complete without Torah.”
147. Ha-Yesodot ha-Ide’ologiyim, 41.
148. R. M.A. Amiel, Ha-Be’ayot ha-Ruhaniyyot she-ba-Tziyyonut: Le-Verur ha-Matzav
ha-Ruhani ba-Aretz (Tel Aviv, 1937), 11.
149. R. Reines believed that it would possible to establish a Jewish state in the Land of
Israel without using force. R. Kook also believed, in the aftermath of the First World
War, that in light of the situation, it would be possible to establish and maintain a
state without wars.
150. Sefer ha-Yahadut ve-ha-Herut, 33–34.
151. On the cultural definition of nationalism see, e.g., Benedict Anderson, Imagined
Communities (London, 1993); Yael Tamir, Liberal Nationalism (Princeton, nj,
1993), 68.
152. Sefer ha-Yahadut ve-ha-Herut, 85, 90; R. Tamares’ arguments were also concerned
with present-day confrontations, see ibid., 92.

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153. See Ravitzky, “Ha-Tzafuy ve-ha-Reshut Netunah.”

154. S.Z. Shragai, “Iggerot ha-Rav A.S. Tamares (Ehad ha-Rabbanim ha-Margishim),”
Shragai (Journal for research into religious Zionism and immigration to the land
of Israel) 2 (1985): 55.
155. E.g., violation of the Sabbath or of dietary regulations.
156. He was writing in 1927; Anita Shapira has pointed out that the term moledet
(“homeland”) was not common in Zionist writing until the Tel Hai incident; see
Shapira, Land and Power, 144.
157. “Iggerot ha-Rav A.S. Tamares,” 56–57 (my italics).
158. Sefer ha-Yahadut ve-ha-Herut, 24–25, 60 (my italics).
159. Ha-Yesodot ha-Ide’ologiyim, 23 (my italics).
160. R. M.A. Amiel, Ha-Mizrahi (May 14, 1919), nos. 19–21, 35.
161. Ha-Be’ayot ha-Ruhaniyyot she-ba-Tziyyonut, 37.
162. Keneset Yisrael, 6–7.
163. Pacifism in Light of the Torah, 18.
164. Ibid., 38. See also his position regarding the establishment of the “Jewish Legion”
toward the end of the First World War: Sheloshah Zivvugim, 40.
165. For example, in Sefer ha-Yahadut ve-ha-Herut, 37.
166. See Sheloshah Zivvugim, 60–61, note. Elsewhere in the same book (9), he writes
of Trumpeldor “who drew his last breath, according to the Zionist narrative, with
a smile on his lips and the declaration, ‘It is good to die for our land.’ ” He also
attacks the use of Hanukkah as a means to cultivate the hero concept.
167. Sefer ha-Yahadut ve-ha-Herut, 99.
168. Keneset Yisrael, 79; in some of his letters, nevertheless, he criticizes the idea of the
spiritual center. See, e.g., Sheloshah Zivvugim, 70; Shragai 1985, 60. However, I do
not think this contradicts my arguments up to this point; whenever he criticizes
the “spiritual center,” his complaint relates to its territorial exclusivity and central-
izing tendency.
169. Keneset Yisrael, 80.
170. Derashot el-Ami, 3:137–138.
171. R. Amiel, Ha-Tzofeh (July 27, 1938).

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